Communications Electronic Design

The Art and Science of Audio Video Technologies

Flint Hills Discovery Center Immersive Experience Theater

Manhattan, KS-

The Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas is a beautiful new visitors center located in the heart of the Flint Hills, the last remaining tall grass prairie in North America. Visitors to the Discovery Center learn about the ecosystem, the wildlife, and the history and spirit that is the Flint Hills.  Architectural firm Verner Johnson and Associates, in conjunction with Museum Design firm Gerard Hilferty and Associates, worked magic in capturing the essence of the Flint Hills with a spectacular interpretive center and grounds.


CED was chosen to design/build all media delivery and theatrical elements for the Immersive Theater, which is home to “The Tides of Time”, a 4D immersive presentation created by Donna Lawrence Productions.  The goal of the creative team was to design a theatrical space that immerses the visitor in the grandeur of the Flint Hills, and to reinforce the experience by engaging multiple human senses.



Images provided by Hilferty & Associates


The video presentation is displayed on a 12 foot tall screen that literally wraps around the visitor with a 60 foot wide image on a 35 foot radius.  Faux rock work beneath the screen provides a natural transition from the floor to the bottom edge of the screen.  Three blended and geometry-corrected HD projections provide a seamless image that fills the entire field of view via uncompressed 2K video playback, resulting in stunning image quality.  A tracking drapery system was designed to give the creative team the opportunity to ‘frame’ selected sections of the presentation which, in effect, causes the screen to ‘grow’ throughout the presentation.  The screen was custom designed by CED and consists of a perforated vinyl fabric stretched over an extruded aluminum frame.


A 7.1 audio system was implemented with 5 speakers located directly behind the screen surface and 2 speakers located at the rear of the room.  Subwoofers were designed into, and hidden in the rock wall.  Due to the non-conventional aural imagery of the physical space, a modified on-site audio mixing platform, provided by CED, allowed audio program parameters to be finalized in the theater space for maximum effect.  As always, our custom audio server/DSP was utilized to provide the highest degree of flexibility in routing, blending, time-alignment, and equalization of the final audio program.


Working under the artful design/direction of Available Light, Inc., CED installed a lighting system that punctuates the immersive quality of the presentation.  Multiple lighting surfaces are engaged to expand the presentation to the floor, walls, and audience.  The artistic subtleties of lighting enhance the experience of water, snow, fire, lightning and audience immersion in a field of fireflies.  CED designed an LED lighting system that embeds 220 individually addressed LEDs in the rock ground form, with programming based on natural behavior to replicate the firefly effect.


Since weather is fundamental to the Flint Hills experience, CED was tasked to effectively simulate specific weather conditions in the theater.  A chilled fog system was designed to dispense an even layer of fog across the floor of the theater, which would also provide an additional projection surface for lighting, in effect expanding on-screen images down to floor level.  CED control system design and programming literally takes control of the HVAC in the space in order to avert unwanted air currents, as well as quickly eliminate the fog effect during scene transition.


CED was also tasked with the design and implementation of a ‘controlled’ wind effect.  Testing of a wide range of fan types to determine performance characteristics as well as speed control capabilities was undertaken.  Consequently, the unit that delivered the desired volume and effect could not be readily speed controlled, so CED engineered a custom solution by designing and fabricating a DMX motor speed control for the unit.  As a result, the wind effect is quite convincing and greatly enhances the experience - from a soft breeze blowing across the prairie to the violent storm winds that sweep across the Kansas plains.


CED also developed additional custom items for the Flint Hills immersive experience.  The creative team struggled with the notion of on screen captions, since the field of view was so wide that it was not possible to fix a visitor’s vision on one part of the screen.  Our design team developed an iPod touch application whereby the visitor can check out an iPod at the reception desk for viewing captions during the presentation.


Finally, we wrote a customizable PC application for use as a countdown clock, featuring an LCD screen located just outside the theater entrance.  While having all the features of a controlled countdown clock, it also provides multiple informational pages that are user-selectable via the control system.




1014 E Broadway

Louisville, KY 40204

(502) 584-0816