Down Under Makeover

Vision Isle brings Australia to Oakland Zoo.

Big Picture

When Oakland Zoo’s Wild Australia exhibit kicked off last summer, guests were brought down under without ever stepping foot outside of California, with live animals straight from the Outback and the melodic tunes of Didgeridoo music. To celebrate the additions of several Australian wallaroo and emu, Oakland Zoo created a 3.5-acre Wild Australia exhibit surrounding its railroad tracks – inviting guests to hop on the Outback Express and be immersed in all things Oz.

First order of business: replacing outdated signage with Australian-inspired designs. Family-owned Vision Isle in San Leandro, California, came on board to help the zoo create the faux Australia, beginning with brainstorming various stock sources and local photographers’ websites for Aussie-like imagery, as well as capturing images of the new Oakland Zoo animals using a Nikon Coolpix 5700 digital camera.

Welcoming signage for Outback Express was printed onto 1/8-inch 3A Composites Dibond and 1/4-inch Laminators Inc. Omega aluminum panels, and a 12 x 21-foot tunnel-cover graphic was output onto sheets of 6-mm Sintra. A life-size walaroo and zoo keeper standee created using ½-inch plywood wrapped in 3M Controltac vinyl with 3M laminate add an element of surprise to the Australian adventure. And to offer the animals a bit of privacy, Vision Isle created a 7.5 x 505-foot realistic graphic covering the fenced-in housing (a local photographer’s image of Australia’s Ayers Rock was used for the imagery). All print work was done on the shop’s Colorspan DisplayMaker 72UVR hybrid printer.

Not being satisfied with basic flat signage, Vision Isle produced 3D creations for the Australian paradise, including an old-fashioned gas pump made from scratch. “I traveled up and down hardware stores to piece the gas pump together,” says Vision Isle’s Carden Smith. “The handle, for example, was made out of an electrical box, a hose from a garbage disposal, a robe holder that hangs on a door, PVC pipe, and stainless-steel wire. The main body of the pump was framed out of 2 x 4-feet plywood, the face was 1/8-in. Dibond, and the outer body was ¼-in. Sintra.”

The shop also developed an element of “make-under” – a 9.25 x 12.5-feet and 16-feet-tall worn-down shack of sorts. “The hut is basically created from a two-dimensional photo. The structure is composed of 2 x 4 and 4 x 4 posts, as you would build a house structure, only this is open in the back for use as a storage facility or an animal hideout,” says Smith. The walls were constructed of printed 6mm Sintra, and hand-coated with a UV laminate for a weathered look. The shack’s polycarbonate corrugated sheet roof was direct-printed to give the appearance of rusted metal.

The Vision Isle team installed the entire project in a little under a week, turning the California train ride into a wild Australian excursion.

Vision Isle

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