The Shedd Aquarium

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Since 1930, the John G. Shedd Aquarium has been connecting the human world to the aquatic world through its majestic and unique animals, award-winning exhibits, leading conservation and research initiatives and world-class educational programming. The Aquarium cares for more than 32,000 animals, representing The Shedd Aquarium

almost 1,600 species from places all around the globe. From its

ranks as Chicago’s

architecturally historic aquarium galleries, to its world-renowned

top-attended cultural

marine mammal pavilion, the Oceanarium, to the colorful and

attraction, welcoming

exciting Wild Reef exhibit, the Shedd Aquarium is one of the

over 2 million guests

preeminent aquariums in the world.

throughout the year.

THE OCEANARIUM 18 years and nearly 33 million visitors after it opened, the Oceanarium has received its first major overhaul. The popular 3-million-gallon saltwater Oceanarium underwent major renovations, renewing animal habitats, life-support systems, hands-on exhibits, and dining areas. The Oceanarium reopened in May 2009, with new exhibits and experiences, with increased opportunities for interactions with animals and the furthering of their conservation and education missions.

The Oceanarium transports guests more than 2,000 miles from downtown Chicago to the Pacific Northwest coast bringing them face-to-face with the natural habitat of dolphins, whales, sea otters and sea lions.

Shedd Aquarium is supported by the people of Chicago and the State of Illinois. Shedd Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

THE POLAR PLAY ZONE shedd’s first permanent exhibit designed especially for CHILDREN

Through exploration, observation and play, kids and their families will connect and find inspiration in nature’s animals and opposites. The Polar Play Zone builds on what parents already know, that children learn best through play! Add animals to the mix, and there’s no better way to inspire caring for the natural world. The exhibit has been designed with children ages 2 to 7 in mind, tapping into children’s natural curiosity through hands-on exploration, water play and up-close animal encounters. Children will roll up their sleeves and play in a tidal pool, touch sea stars, frolic alongside sea otters, search icy caves and pretend to be deep-sea explorers. Flexible play spaces offer activities to stoke the imagination with costumes, props, music and art supplies. Families can take in underwater views of Shedd’s most popular residents, the returning Beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters and Magellanic and Rock Hopper penguins. The exhibit features four separate areas, each dedicated to an extreme environment representing Shedd’s Oceanarium animals: Shallow Ocean, Deep Ocean, Icy South and Icy North.

We felt that with the right illustration we could create a unique and charismatic look for The Polar Play Zone. It helped build a very distinct space within Shedd, that is clearly for children. ~ Kara Kotwas, Sr. Graphic Designer, Shedd Aquarium ~


Because the Shedd Aquarium is geared towards families, the design team for the Polar Play Zone knew illustration would make this exhibit special for young children. They were looking for an illustrator who was a strong character designer, who could also handle landscapes and nature. In June of 2008, I was selected to submit samples of work and a proposal to help the Shedd Aquarium bring the Polar Play Zone to life with my illustration style. How would I give their four underwater superstars visual personalities that would invite little ones to observe? How would I stylize the habitats to ignite curiosity and exploration? After several meetings and many questions, they awarded me the project and I began pouring all of my skills and talent into creating the illustrative atmosphere of the Polar Play Zone. My research was extensive, I looked through many books on all types of animal and plant sealife. The Shedd supplied me with piles of photos from their archives and I researched photographers who captured life in the underwater world. I enthusiastically studied the things I was drawing and how they existed in their natural environments. Learning about these magnificent creatures was such a rewarding part of this project! I worked with a small team of designers at the Shedd Aquarium and we began the six month process of bringing the graphic elements to life and applying them to the permanent exhibit pieces. It was great to collaborate with one of Chicago’s most loved museums and be part of a world-class organization that desires to create lasting experiences for every guest. ~ Molly Zakrajsek, Illustrator ~

This is the book of the work we did together.


Shallow Ocean invites guests into the active and engaging rocky coastline where texture and touch predominate. A 70 foot long illustrative mural of an environmental tide pool curves around the exhibit, giving the room the distinct feel of a tidal coastline. The blending of realistic rock work with stylized forms creates a bright, colorful world of exploration. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

“The most challenging work for me was the tide pool mural. It was the most time-consuming of all the pieces of the exhibit, and by far, the most rewarding. I love seeing families snapping photos near it or a little one pointing to an image they recognize. Murals bring so much energy to a space!” ~ Molly Z. 7


The extremes of a tide pool environment become

a kid friendly splash zone in the tide pool touch area. Children can explore the wonders of water through touch, interactivity and, best of all, getting wet.


IS ALL ABOUT GETTING CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH This recreated tide pool is full of surprises and secrets

along the shore. Roll up your sleeves and feel the rough,

waiting to be discovered. Trigger a sea anemone to wave

scratchy surfaces of real sea stars. Get nose to nose with

its “fingers” in search of food. Find hidden homes for

playful, swimming otters and find out lots of fun facts

limpets and barnacles. Sort shells and feel waves lap

about Shedd’s furry friends.


“I think Polar Play Zone is MORE cohesive than I had imagined. The illustration really helps everything hang together in a consistent way.� ~ Kara Kotwas, Sr. Graphic Designer, Shedd Aquarium ~



“We were immediately drawn to Molly’s work for it’s expressiveness and graphic simplicity. We knew it would be the right aesthetic for the Polar Play Zone.” ~ Kara Kotwas, Sr. Graphic Designer ~ Shedd Aquarium

POLAR PLAY ZONE Shallow ocean play labels Small play labels are placed throughout the exhibit with easy to understand Shallow Ocean facts and activities.

Shallow ocean Interactive Signs These interactive signs are placed near the live otter tank with fun, engaging facts to encourage young visitors to explore.

Shallow ocean tide pool mural This 70 foot mural curves around the entire Shallow Ocean exhibit.


SHALLOW OCEAN Shallow ocean opposite Display Display artwork uses ‘opposite’ themes throughout the exhibit to teach visitors about the lives and habitats of the animals living at the Shedd Aquarium.


Pretend Splash POLAR PLAY ZONE BANNER This colorful banner, over 20 feet tall, hangs on the main level of the Oceanarium and invites visitors to go below and explore the Polar Play Zone.

SHALLOW OCEAN ZONE SIGN Dimensional sign hangs above the tide pool mural inviting little ones to learn about tide pool life and play in the water.



Deep Ocean’s environment is calm and subdued. Long, deep tones wash through the space, interspersed with natural ocean animal sounds. The glow of the water through the massive viewing widows combined with movement and sound transport visitors to the mesmerizing underwater world of the open ocean. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

“This project made me want to be a better artist, to look at things with a more focused eye and to really enjoy the wonderful creativity in our natural world. I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute my skills to further the Shedd’s mission of inspiring exploration and discovery in others.” ~ Molly Z. 19


Filled with cozy spots for families to eat, Deep Ocean

provides a calm setting to take a break and get a snack. Chill out as you watch dolphins swim near and far.


IN THE POLAR PLAY ZONE’S DEEP OCEAN While parents unwind and enjoy the view, children can

It’s the most serene setting to watch the Pacific white-sided

learn about the opposite elements of the dolphin world,

dolphins swimming throughout Whale Harbor showing off

such as leaping up to twenty feet in the air, then diving

their playfulness and unique movements.

down below as fast as a car.



DEEP OCEAN INTERACTIVE SIGNS Spaced along the dolphin tanks in the viewing corridor, these interactive signs invite guests to pull, spin and rotate sign pieces to learn interesting opposite facts about Pacific White-sided Dolphins.



DEEP OCEAN ZONE SIGN Dimensional sign hangs above tables in the cafe hallway, where families can take a break from the action and enjoy a meal or snack while watching dolphins play and swim.

DEEP OCEAN WAY FINDING SIGN Large wall sign directs guests to the Deep Ocean as they continue on through the exhibit.



Icy South is an active area with distinctive natural and environmental

elements. Guests are invited to view actual penguins in their habitat or head to different stations to learn about different penguins species. Icy South is a colorful area where children laugh and play while penguins dive and swim in this engaging section of Polar Play Zone. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

“I worked closely with the designers at the Shedd to achieve the right balance of accuracy and playfulness in the illustrations of the main animal characters. They had to be age appropriate and accurate in their markings. I think we arrived at lively characters that are true to form.” ~ Molly Z. 27


On this frosty coastline, penguins jump, slide and

play. Take a closer look at Shedd’s lively community of Magellanic and Rock Hopper penguins, always on the go, both above water and below.


A ROCKY SHORE IN THE CHILLY SOUTHERN OCEAN The Icy South’s Penguin Playscape is a place to learn

Visitors can spend time building a rocky nest and caring

about penguins by pretending to be one. Along this

for eggs or a newly hatched chick. Whether they are busy

recreated rocky shore, take a turn sliding like a penguin,

rock hoppers or imaginative children, penguins are always

or try on a costume and mimic penguins in motion.

in action in the Icy South.


“I absolutely loved seeing how Molly evolved the work to the next level. Each round of alterations was like getting a little present in my inbox.� ~ Kara Kotwas, Sr. Graphic Designer ~ Shedd Aquarium


ICY SOUTH small play labels Illustrated to help young visitors engage in the learning activities at Icy South’s Penguin Playscape.

ICY SOUTH INTERACTIVE SIGNS These signs educate visitors on how Penguins survive and interact in their environment.

ICY SOUTH MURAL Placed on the either side of the penguin viewing habitat, these murals visually extend this playful exhibit.


ICY SOUTH ICY SOUTH opposite Display Display artwork helps visitors find their way to the Polar Play Zone and highlights animal opposite facts.


pretend ICY SOUTH WAY FINDING SIGN Large circular wall graphic points the way to the Icy South as you curve around the exhibit space.


ICY SOUTH ZONE SIGN Dramatically lighted, this dimensional sign announces the beginning of the Icy South Play Zone.



Icy North

provides guests with an intense sensory experience that carries them to the chilly world under the arctic ice. They become explorers of this mysterious realm with dive equipment and a kidsized submarine. The luminous icy elements and rock work create an evocative environment and dramatic play place. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

“I love being able to work with a group of people who have the big picture in mind and believe that illustration can help establish a memorable, enjoyable experience, especially for kids and families. I would love to do more work for museums and children’s environments.” ~ Molly Z. 39


Step into the Beluga viewing room in the Icy North

and gaze at the calm "canaries of the sea" while gaining insight into the beluga's natural environment.


NORTHERN WATERS IN POLAR PLAY ZONE’S ICY NORTH The kid-size submarine invites deep-sea explorers to

Investigate undersea opposites by searching the nooks

submerge into a unique world of sea life that depends on

and crannies of an icy cave and uncover the secret of how

the icy waters to survive and thrive. Take a look through

animals use the ice to stay alive. There are many ways to

a periscope, check gauges and imagine.

explore in the Icy North.


“I thought it was remarkable that Molly was able to adjust her typical style just a little, toward a slightly more naturalistic style, per our request, to give us exactly what we wanted.� ~ Kara Kotwas, Sr. Graphic Designer ~ Shedd Aquarium



Splash ICY NORTH opposite Display Display artwork teaches the concept of opposites to youngsters. These concepts are used throughout the entire exhibit.

ICY NORTH INTERACTIVE Signs These signs reveal interesting facts about Beluga Whales.

POLAR PLAY ZONE BANNER This large Beluga banner suspended from the ceiling on main floor of the Oceanarium guides visitors to the Polar Play Zone on the lower level.



ICY NORTH WAY FINDING SIGN Friendly wall graphic points the way to the Icy North Play Zone.

ICY NORTH ACTIVITY SIGN Display artwork helps guests learn more about life with Belugas. ICY NORTH play labels Play labels in the Polar Play Zone invite guests to actively participate in exhibit experiences.

ICY NORTH ZONE SIGN Dimensional sign in the Icy North inviting visitors to an icy world.



Molly Z. spends most of her time striving to create imagery that captures people’s vision, engages their minds, ignites their hearts and inspires action. Her illustrative characters are iconic and fun, existing in playful environments of quirky shapes and bright colors. She is known for her ability to graphically stylize people, animals and objects, giving them unique visual personalities. She uses color in fresh new combinations to create vibrant illustrations that are festive, modern, and lively. You can see her art used in licensing, advertising, publishing, branding, retail and community spaces. Molly Z. is continuously seeking out new illustration projects and creating archives of art to license. She is also involved in several international volunteer organizations and is grateful for the privilege to work with clients and be creative in life....And in case you were wondering, the Z. stands for Zakrajsek.

The best results in creative endeavors seem to happen when people come together and share their many talents, insight, and resources. This book was brought to life through the generous and collaborative efforts of Molly Z. Art+Design, Subzero Design and SR Studio.



For a better part of eighteen years, Subzero Design has been

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