Permanent Exhibit Fabrication – California: State of Nature

The California Academy of Sciences new permanent exhibit fabrication installation tells the story of California's ecosystem diversity, and JMP helped set the scene.

Ready for a revamp in 2024, the west hall in San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences transformed into a new exhibit titled California: State of Nature. This fantastic permanent exhibit highlights the diversity of California’s ecosystems. From marine environments to urban wildlife to redwood forests, iconic California environments are presented in a unique and engaging way. The display is a culmination of efforts from several different parties. JMP participated in the permanent exhibit fabrication by engineering and installing the overhead marine mammal skeleton cascade, installing a new suspended strut system for the exhibit lighting and wayfinding banners, and providing the life sized flora and fauna representations seen throughout the exhibit. 

For the engineering, fabrication, and installation of the skeleton display, the challenge came in fabricating a large structure to be mounted to the concrete wall using existing holes. The structure needed to be substantial enough to support nine skeletons and one pelican model over a walkway, as well as support a large MDF background designed to match the nearby sea lion skull exhibit. Using expansion bolts, we aligned the display with holes left in the concrete from the forms used to cast the original concrete wall. The oversized back panel was brought into the museum in pieces, reassembled in placed, and lifted by chain hoists in order to bolt the entire display to the wall. We also faced the challenge of installing a new strut system in the ceiling for hanging the display lights and eight large banners that identify the exhibit. Working around the web of existing wires used to rig the giant blue whale skeleton, as well as other flown exhibits in the west hall, proved to be the biggest challenge here. 

We were also tasked with the fabrication of eleven life sized animals in a fashion resembling a topographical map. There were a number of challenges to this approach to 3D model making. First, each animal needed to be digitally modeled in 3D and posed appropriately for the scene that designer Julia Louie envisioned for the exhibit. Ken Akerman of Cal Academy’s 3D design team used Blender and other design software to prepare the 3D files. We then digitally sliced the models into several layers in preparation for routing. While there are many software programs designed to make tiny slices for 3D printers, there is only one for large sheet goods – a somewhat forgotten and unsupported software called Slicer for Fusion 360. The beauty of this software is its ability to number each layer and plot alignment points to aid in assembly.  Unfortunately, in-progress files can not be saved, creating quite the obstacle in our pre-fabrication process. These models kept our ShopBot CNC router and fabrication crew busy for several weeks, as each layer was drawn, cut, labeled, assembled and painted. Kudos to our CAD pro Felipe Piris for his expertise in plotting the layers in preparation for routing. We also put our new Laguna laser cutter to task with the smaller scale models, which was a great learning experience for our team. 

The new exhibit opened in May of 2024, and we encourage you to come see it in person. As always, it was a pleasure to collaborate with the Academy, and we look forward to our next project together.

Interested in learning more about JMP and our projects? Read on below to discover other work we have done in the past, or contact us to learn how we can help you turn your ideas into reality
Scroll to Top