Interactive experience includes sights, smells, and more 

Aquarium prepping for 4-D theatre

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Technology has brought viewers to new levels in thematic experience, from surround sound that will shake a filling loose to the growing market for 3-D blockbusters.

In the midst of all that technological wizardry, aquariums with tight budgets and limited space are finding a fresh revenue generator in 4-D "immersion" theaters. The experience includes a 3-D movie, but with the added feature of an interactive chair that produces sensory effects, including water, vibrations, and even a variety of scents (though hopefully not pluff mudd).

The South Carolina Aquarium is expected to install a 52-seat theater in the open space between the popular riverfront attraction and the Fort Sumter Visitors Center. The theater will be housed inside of a portable trailer.

Scheduled to open in April, tickets will be offered individually or as an add-on cost to regular aquarium admission, says spokeswoman Beth Nathan. Planet Earth: Shallow Seas is expected to be the first film. The popular cable television program has been condensed into a 15-minute production.

All of this sounds fun, but this is Charleston we're talking about. Appearance matters, especially when it comes to the Aquarium Wharf area.

"By no means will you feel like you're walking into a trailer," Nathan says, adding that the theater will be assembled on site and fitted with an attractive facade.

The exact theater expected to come to Charleston is currently being used on the Olympic campus in Vancouver, Nathan says.

The theater will sit on National Park Service land, which manages the Fort Sumter Visitors Center. The aquarium and the park system have signed a year-long agreement with the potential for four annual extensions. The attraction is expected to be a long-term offering at the aquarium.

"It's not something we're bringing in as a temporary experience," she says, noting that they'll reevaluate the success of the theater next year. "Just as we've seen with our (recently extended) penguin exhibit, hopefully the community will respond positively."

SimEx-Iwerks is leasing the theater to the aquarium. The films are expected to focus on short educational programs, but the company also offers more entertaining fare, like The Polar Express 4-D Experience, which has been popular at other aquariums.

In other related news, the aquarium recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and made the announcement that it has paid off the more than $12 million spent to construct the building in 2000.


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