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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Monterey’s new screensaver is probably a trip through an underwater canyon

Amongst the additions in macOS Monterey are a couple new screensavers—I know, try and contain your excitement. One is the retro “Hello” module inspired by Steve Jobs’s introduction of the original Macintosh.

The other is the eponymous “Monterey” module, which appears to be a pretty minimalist series of shifting color images, along the same pink-purple palette that Apple’s used in many of its dynamic desktop wallpapers in Big Sur.

Monterey screensaver

But reader Josef uncovered something interesting about the Monterey screen saver, and it turns out that it’s more complicated than you might think.

While poking around in the file for the Monterey screensaver (which you can find at /System/Library/Screen Savers/Monterey.saver), Josef found a file called inside the package. That’s an Alembic 3D file that appears to contain a mapping of (as the name suggests) a canyon. If you open the file in Preview, you’ll find that you can actually zoom in and out and pan around the image.

Monterey Canyon model

Combined with a second file in the Monterey screen saver, camera, it seems pretty clear that what might look like simply an abstract series of colors is actually an animated trip through this 3D model of a landscape—not dissimilar in some ways to the Aerial screensaver on the Apple TV.

Which raises the question: Where exactly is this canyon?

The name Monterey, of course, seems to suggest this is likely Monterey Canyon, the enormous underwater canyon in Monterey Bay, California.

I’ve pulled up a few other three dimensional maps of Monterey Canyon, but it’s hard to tell exactly where this might correspond. The screensaver model seems to be only a partial reconstruction, and it’s mainly concerned with the areas where the camera seems to traverse—just that big central loop; plus, it’s hard to get a sense of the scale or orientation.

Still, it’s a pretty cool little easter egg that makes a mere screensaver decidedly more complex than at first glance.1

  1. Even without any flying toasters. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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