WW1 visitor centre immerses visitors in history

The Sir John Monash Centre commemorates the 295 000 Australian men and women who served on the Western Front during the First World War, 46,000 of whom never returned home. The 1,200 square meter centre, which opened in 2018 on the 100th anniversary of the battle for Villers-Bretonneux, is a high-tech facility, discreetly located in the Somme on the grounds of the Australian National Memorial and military cemetery.

The centre was commissioned and financed by the Australian government, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and announced in 2015 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, as a “next generation immersive experience."

Hive of AV activity

Built largely underground to blend with the surrounding landscape and existing memorial, the Centre is a hive of AV activity with several multimedia galleries. It is equipped with over 360 LCD screens, multiple projectors, a complete video integration and broadcasting system, show control technology, immersive multi-display playback with Dataton WATCHOUT, specially shot content and a bespoke application which allows visitors to launch and listen to AV content from their own mobile phones.

The immersive gallery at the heart of the Centre boasts a 186-screen WATCHOUT show and spatial audio system to create a 360° experience. The gallery brings visitors shoulder-to-shoulder with Australian soldiers as they engage in combat in the battles of Villers-Bretonneux and Le Hamel. The experience is further enhanced by smoke effects and light beams, synchronized with the 8-minute video (shot in 4K of course). Visitors are thrown into the bewildering chaos of the battle.

The lead AV hardware provider for the project was Orpheo Group, France, who worked to the specifications written by the Australian government. Orpheo in turn engaged Dataton premium partner VIDEMUS, France, for the supply of WATCHOUT show programming, media servers and Medialon show control. Guillaume Deschamps, Orpheo Group: "We were looking for a partner with real expertise in show-control technologies and able to bring a strong added value to our solution. That's why we chose VIDEMUS."

Orpheo also brought in one of France's most long-standing AV companies, Atelier du Son et de l’Image (ADSI), who played a valuable role in the project. 

Using WATCHOUT on site

Wildbear Entertainment, Australia, was the agency commissioned for the multimedia content and graphic design at the centre. Creating a 360° immersive film about war is no easy task; the images, sounds, special effects must be synchronized in order to guide the viewer’s eyes and ears through a journey.

“After preparing all of my assets for the show, I had a rough timing bed from Adobe Premiere. As we couldn't test the show anywhere except the museum itself, my plan was to build the edit in Australia, and take all of the assets (with handles) over to France," explains Chris Bamford, Senior Creative, Wildbear Entertainment. 

"When we arrived and played the show in the theatre, I realised a lot of what we were trying to achieve was not going to work for the space. That's where WATCHOUT came in. I recut the edit on location live so we could constantly update and see the results. We were playing 6 or 7 layers of 4K video real-time which was incredible! We found HAPQ was the only option… a beautiful codec. Everyone told us WATCHOUT was not a montage tool, but that's precisely what I used it for and it didn't fail.”

Reminder of war

The SJMC took just under two years to build and opened ahead of time for the centenary of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux and Anzac Day in 2018. This was despite unexpected events along the way, such as the discovery of 234 kg of unexploded ordnance just prior to the scheduled start of construction.

Described as "a deeply moving experience" by visitors, the Centre has no turnstiles and entry is free. 

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