Inside The Western Flyer poster

Inside the Western Flyer

  • Title: Inside the Western Flyer
  • Director: Mike Cuales, Ernie Flowers
  • Country: USA
  • Runtime: 8m33s

(Passive Experience – 360 Theater)

In 1940 Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck and visionary marine biologist, Ed Ricketts undertook a 6-week trip to the Sea of Cortez on the sardine boat the Western Flyer. In the process, they discovered around 50 new marine species and catalogued over 560 species of fauna. Out of that trip came Steinbeck’s classic book of marine ecology, philosophy, and adventure: The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Starting in 2018, the Western Flyer underwent a $2M restoration to turn it into a state-of-the-art research and education boat so that its legacy can live on.

Four times sunk, the Western Flyer, still permeated with the spirits of John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts tells the story of their 1940 expedition to the Sea of Cortez – a tale of marine biology, philosophy, and literature.

Mike Cuales - Director Headshot - Inside the Western Flyer Director Biography – Mike Cuales, Ernie Flowers

Mike Cuales, Owner / LEVR Studios LLC: In his current role as Creative Director at North Carolina State University’s Department of Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA), Mike manages a diverse team of multimedia designers. In the past few years, he has focused his efforts on the exploration, production and application of interactive 360º VR video in higher education courses and University-wide initiatives. In 2017, he received the NC State University Award of Excellence for his dedication and commitment to innovation in higher education. In 2018, Mike was acknowledged with the International Serious Play Award and Campus Technology Impact Award for an interactive 360 VR video production developed for Global Training in support of building Cultural Competencies.

Outside of the University, Mike has worked with a range of commercial entities to produce 360 VR video for marketing and training applications while also supporting local STEaM outreach and education efforts. He has built partnerships with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Museum of Art, City of Raleigh Museum, Research Triangle Park, Duke University and RTP STEM in the Park to explore new applications for virtual reality in K-12 education, outreach and community engagement.

Mike has taught animation and digital imaging at NC State’s College of Design and 360 VR filmmaking workshops for NextGen Interactions. He pioneered a 360 VR video production course at Duke TIP and has presented at SXSWedu, UNC Cause, Liberact, HOW Design, Hopscotch Design, Art of Cool, RTP 180, NCMA Learn, Digital Libraries conference, International Association of Venue Managers and eLearning Guild’s Realities 360 summit and achieved a Gold Award at the 2020 Southeastern Museum Conference for his immersive exhibit for Georgia O’Keeffe.


Ernie Flowers - Director Headshot - Inside the Western Flyer Ernie Flowers comes from the coast of North Carolina, where he developed a love of photography and, while in college, sold his first photo to Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. He has lived in Seattle for 25 years and maintains an affinity for medium-format, black-and-white film photography and for his darkroom.

Ernie has had over a dozen exhibitions of his photographs, including solo exhibitions at A Step Above gallery in Wenatchee and Glazer’s Camera Gallery in Seattle, among others. He was selected by Photo Center Northwest in Seattle for their juried PCNW Presents competition, leading to an exhibition of his Vinegar Hill, NC series there. In 2016 he was a winner of the juried Alternative Processes competition at Black & White Magazine, leading to the publication of one of his photos in their international fine arts magazine.

While working at AT&T, Ernie organized 40 workshops on virtual reality and 360° filmmaking, which were attended by over 2,500 people across the country. He also managed a project in which over 500 attendees concurrently watched Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s 360° film in VR headsets during her presentation at AT&T’s SHAPE event. Most recently Ernie has worked on 360° video projects with the Dungeness River Audubon Center on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC, where he previously worked under the curators of reptiles and amphibians.