Scenic Design Project with CNC Routed Frogs for Shedd Aquarium

Bringing the exhibit to the people!

Our friends at the Shedd Aquarium came to us with a unique opportunity. They wanted us to design and fabricate an installation at the Water Tower Place Shopping Mall in Chicago as an environmental marketing campaign. Consequently, Bridgewater Studio developed this unique scenic design project, advertising their new Amphibians Exhibit. The concept needed to be bold enough to compete with the visual stimulation of Water Tower Place’s 135-foot-tall central atrium. On top of that, it needed to communicate an impression of these creatures in their natural habitats. Our challenge was to display them in a fashion that allowed for viewers on all sides, top and bottom, to deliberately stage them to the viewers. In the end, these amazing animals speak for themselves!

rendered concept for water tower place


fire bellied toad for water tower place scenic designgreen CNC routed frogmantellafrog scenic design project tomato frog

Virtual dissection with 3D models

We actually worked with anatomically-correct 3D models. As a result, we were able to “dissect” the frog shapes virtually, 3D carve them on our CNC router, then reassemble the parts back into their final shapes. Luckily, custom-engineered tooling allowed us to CNC carve in 12″ thick sections! The sheer thickness of the parts reduced the amount needed for each frog— which naturally reduced post-fabrication time.

CNC routed mantella frog sliced


Scenic design with CNC technology

Obviously, CNC machining dramatically increases project throughput and reduces costs. In this way, our methodology could rapidly, and repeatedly, create things that would take an artist working by hand 4 to 5 times as long, which is unique to us as a Chicago scenic studio.

tomato frog cnc top

tomato frog cnc bottom

The finishing touches on our scenic design project

Finally, post-finishing the rough carvings with a polyurethane hard-coat, followed by scenic finishes and hanging point anchorages, completes the process and brings these creatures to life. Installation was accomplished over two nights after hours at the mall. As you can see, we completely filled that huge atrium space with our colorful amphibians!

finished frog

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Water Tower
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Final thoughts on Shedd’s environmental marketing exhibit

This Project had many challenges. First of all, the whole scenic design was to be viewed from a full 360 degrees. Secondly, the elements needed to be lightweight— but strong. Installing anything from hanging points 135-feet in the air is not easy… However, all the time spent pre-planning, visualizing— sweating the details for these challenges, allowed us to give these amazing creatures exposure to thousands of people without using any specimen pins.

finished frog CNC routed scenic design
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