Case Study: Art as Research

Terracotta Warriors

We used Art as Research to solve a last minute request, stayed under budget, and helped create an other-worldly experience
We used Art as Research to solve a last minute request, stayed under budget, and helped create an other-worldly experience

Terracotta Warriors


Universal Services Associates

Concept Development & Design
Franklin Institute Pacific Science Center Gecko Design

Project Management & Sound
Atom Arts (formerly Connect Interactives)


August 29, 2019



This exciting exhibition investigated the science behind the Terracotta Warriors and the technological advancements of the Qin Dynasty more than two millennia ago. The exhibit included over 300 artifacts, including 10 real figures from China, and traveled to two locations.

ATOM was already providing management services for the project, when at a very late stage, we had a request to fill the nearly 10,000 sq ft of exhibit space with ambient sound. We were nearly out of time, and budget, and this was a very specific request. Finding a composer who was familiar with ancient Chinese instrumentation and tuning systems to compose music for the space was going to be difficult, time consuming, and very expensive. On the other end, going with generic Chinese music was going to be cliché, trite, and diminish the visitor experience.


To solve this problem within the budget, Andrew invited composer, programmer, and professor Paul Botelho to help. Although he isn’t Chinese or a specialist in Chinese instrumentation, his music has explored algorithmic compositional methods as well as alternative tunings. As well, some of his music is very minimal, even sparse. These three parameters would prove key to solving this compositional challenge.

For Terracotta, Paul composed a method for generating an ethereal soundscape with a period specific tuning system that would not repeat, even for the months that the exhibit was up. The end result was stunning and provided just the sonic backdrop that we wanted.

Read more about Paul’s composition and fascinating process.

Working with Andrew Tomasulo on the Terracotta Warriors traveling exhibit project was a great experience. The project was complex with many moving parts: two institutions on opposite sides of the country with varied floor plans and conditions, a loan of priceless artifacts from China, a tight timeline and budget, and a challenging directive to create 3 immersive experiences. Andrew was able to guide the many stakeholders, design teams, and build teams through the process of creating, building, and installing this exhibit. He was able to keep us all on track with a clear vision, expertise and sense of humor. The project was a tremendous success for both the Franklin Institute and Pacific Science Center as well as one of my personal favorites.

Jill Metzger, Creative Director of Gecko