For Fantasea, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium’s new multimedia marine mammal show awarded Chicago Flyhouse the Lead Rigging Design Consultant contract, with responsibility for a complete rigging overhaul and the design and installation of key items including an 8,000 lb projection screen and light-control curtain for the Shedd’s windowed East wall – billed by the Shedd as the largest motorized curtain in the U.S. and possibly the world.

“We knew the curtain would be a huge part of what makes Fantasea such a magical experience,” said Project Manager Mark Witteveen. “For 18 years, visitors had to squint into the sun to see the animals, so from a practical side, it was necessary, and darkening the space allows Shedd to create exciting performance moments with theatrical lighting. But the fact that the curtain face supports projected images is what really raises Fantasea’s production potential.”

For fabrication, Flyhouse turned to their longtime specialty drapery supplier, I. Weiss, working with the I. Weiss team to identify fabric suitable for high-definition projection that would also resist the amphitheater’s saltwater environment, and to determine the fabrication of each stitch, seam, connection point, pipe pocket, grommet, webbing, and hemline. In addition, teams from Shedd, Walsh Construction, and Flyhouse flew to I. Weiss’ NYC location to pass final inspection and approval for the curtain prior to rigging by Chicago Flyhouse.

The project presented Flyhouse with many challenges, including navigating the installation of the massive curtain over the saltwater pool with only a 4′ wide access walk and no personnel lifts or heavy equipment allowed in the arena. To address this issue, the curtain was rigged in sections and completed on-site by technicians who sewed the pieces together while rappelling down the back wall.

Powered by two Chicago Flyhouse custom-built 20HP motors driving synchronized 16″ diameter stainless steel drums, the 500’x33′ curtain smoothly and quietly lowers in under 30 seconds. Backed by a blackout liner, the white curtain face is held taut by over 16,000 ft of pipes, and features a seamless 145′ expanse in the center for projecting wraparound visuals to enhance the Oceanarium’s Pacific Northwest Coast environment, and add Broadway-level production values to Fantasea.

  • The 500′ x 33′ custom curtain weighs an astonishing 8,000 lbs.
  • The curtain is comprised of a blackout liner and white encore fabric facing, conjoined by a series of rings to move as one unit.
  • The integrated pieces collapse completely behind a custom valance of a seamless piece of 500 ft-long fabric.
  • The curtain is fully motorized and is designed to integrate with the Shedd’s existing controls.
  • Two 20HP motors lower the curtain at speeds about 2 ft per second.
  • The curtain uses 7,000 ft of 3/16″ Amsteel high strength rope and 200 aircraft-grade pulleys.
  • The curtain contains 16,000 ft of aluminum in the form of ribs and stiffener pipe, which holds the curtain taut and flat when it is lowered, and noiselessly stacks when the curtain is raised.

For more information about the Shedd Aquarium,visit their website.