Senior Producer Steve Hewitt was honoured to have his reflections on the International Bomber Command Centre project included in its opening ceremony’s commemorative book. We’ve reproduced his contribution here.
“For everyone at Centre Screen, it was a genuine honour to be asked to provide the audiovisual and interactive content for the International Bomber Command Centre. Having seen the designs created by Redman – with whom we have a long and successful relationship – we were sure that this would be a project to be proud of. More than that, though, these were stories that cried out to be told well – and we are, above all, storytellers.
And the first story we had to tell was one that hadn’t even occurred to some of the older members of our team: the story of how the Second World War actually came about. The introductory films at the entrance to the Operation Bomber Command gallery do just that, showing why there was a war and how Bomber Command came to play such a pivotal role.
We began with research, much already provided by the team at the Centre, but with many crucial details waiting to be found. We pored for countless hours over archive photos and films, we went back to school history lessons – and found that much of what we recalled was wrong. By the time we’d finished, we had a set of films that, we believe, tell the story clearly, truthfully and fairly.
Authenticity, it became clear, was going to be essential. After all, people who had actually fought that war would be seeing our films and interactives. Telling their story well and honestly, commemorating “those who served and those who suffered,” was a responsibility we all felt keenly, not least because some of us have personal connections to Bomber Command. For instance, we discovered that one of our designers’ grandfather had been a rear gunner in Lancasters.
Authenticity, therefore, became our watchword. When you take on the Bomber Crew Challenge – the large interactive table – the crew station on your screen is designed using actual photographs of Lancaster interiors. The mission you fly is modeled on Operation Hydra, flown against the V2 research station in Peenemunde in 1943.
Looming over it it, The Geography of War shows every bombing raid of the war in Europe, condensed into 10 minutes, projected 7m wide. Driving that animation is a precise record of aircraft numbers and raid latitude and longitude, taken from official records from every air force involved. Upstairs in the Remembering Bomber Command gallery, our set of mini-documentaries represents weeks of creative effort, crafting what we learned about the Bomber Command’s legacy into entertaining, or moving, or eye-opening stories.
But if we had to point to one piece of work, it would be the immersive show. Working side-by-side with electronics experts, a composer, sound and lighting wizards, the exhibition designers at Redman and the IBCC’s own team, we tried our best to recreate what an air raid felt like. What you see and hear will be, wherever possible, from contemporary archive: intercom chatter from bomber crewmen, newsreel and aerial reconnaissance footage, photoflash images taken by bombers, and personal archive of the aftermath. We couldn’t hope, of course, to replicate the experience of aircrew or civilians on the ground – but we do believe we’ve captured much of the emotion.
It’s been hard, detailed, and demanding work, but the result is, as we hoiped, a project of which we are proud – proud of our work, and proud to have been asked to tell such an important story.
Centre Screen’s designer and animator Joel Hepworth had a profound, personal link to our recent project with the International Bomber Command Centre – his grandad Edward (pictured third from left) crewed on Lancaster bombers in the Second World War. Joel tells his story.
“Working on design and animation for the IBCC had a really personal impact on me, because my Grandad Albert Edward Whitfield flew on Lancasters during the war. Serving with the 90 Squadron Bomber Command 3 Group, Eddy, as he was known, was an air gunner and wireless operator, then a warrant officer. And I’m proud to say he was my grandad, and my pal.
Grandad never spoke much about his time in service. Instead, he’d share his experience indirectly by teaching his grandchildren about engineering, and about working on cars and radios. He did have one or two stories he enjoyed telling.
My personal favourite was about a cheeky emergency landing in France. While on the ground in enemy territory, the crew spotted an abandoned BMW motorcycle. Deciding it would be shame to let it go to waste, they liberated it, storing it in the bomb-bay. They agreed it would be best not to tell the skipper. Unfortunately, as they crossed the Channel, the skipper carried out a routine ditching of unreleased ordinance by opening the bomb-bay doors, and the crew had to watch in silence as their new bike plunged into the cold waters below.
Having lost Grandad when I was still a boy, my involvement with the IBCC project has helped me get to know him a little better. Being able to do that, using the creativity he helped inspire and nurture, has been an incredible experience. It has brought back many happy memories of our time together, hours spent chatting as we built Airfix models. It has also prompted the whole family to talk to my Grandma about their experiences during the war. Being a recipient of the ‘Women of Steel’ medal for her service at Sheffield steelworks during WWII, she has not only been a great source of knowledge of my Grandad’s time in Bomber Command, but has a fair share of her own stories to tell.
I have been captivated by the project and the many stories I’ve heard throughout its progression. I have been extremely lucky to have had access to images, footage and audio that has allowed me to craft and develop pieces of film that I hope do justice to the stories of Edward and the many brave men and women he served with. Not only that, but I hope it helps educate those that may or may not know the details and history of Bomber Command, and help keep the many memories and stories alive.”
That resurgence of interest continues with our involvement in Lincoln’s prestigious new International Bomber Command Centre, which remembers more than 58,000 RAF personnel – men and women both – who lost their lives serving with the Command. Working with Redman Design, we’re developing a range of audio, film and interactive experiences that will share and honour their story.
It’s an enthralling project, with a focus not on the military hardware but on human side of this controversial, even hidden, aspect of the Second World War. And the stories told by the people involved – on both sides, in the air and on the ground – are powerful and affecting.
For instance, one core element of the interpretation will be a large-scale immersive experience that brings vividly to life an attack on a German city, seen from the perspectives of bomber crews and German military and civilian witnesses.
Given the physical and emotional scale of the experience we are creating, with massive multi-surface projections, gobos, lighting effects and ‘hit-you-in-the-stomach’ surround sound, our production team have been experimenting with all sorts of visual and audio techniques.
And the release of Christopher Nolan’s epic war film ‘Dunkirk’ presented an ideal opportunity to immerse ourselves in an afternoon at the cinema and experience the film on a massive IMAX screen. Nolan’s film shares our immersive’s narrative approach: to show war from the perspective of those who were in the thick of it – making this a fantastic opportunity to learn from a master film-maker.
The bar has been set high as we move from war on the beaches to war in the air… No pressure, then!
The Postal Museum, located near to the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre in central London, is now open to the public. As part of this exciting new exhibition, visitors will be able to ride through underground tunnels in purpose-built trains and uncover the rich history of the Mail Rail. The immersive ride uses onboard audio commentary and large-scale projections, bringing the London Postal Railway to life in glorious, panoramic colour.
The Postal Railway, known as Mail Rail, is a six-and-a-half mile long network that runs under the capital’s streets from Paddington in the West to Whitechapel in the East. It opened in 1927 and, at its peak, carried some four million letters a day. In 2003, though, Mail Rail’s narrow-gauge electric trains pulled into the sidings for the last time, and the railway went dark… until now.
As part of an exhibition that includes the cavernous engineering depot, a replica Travelling Post Office train and stories of real-life Mail Rail staff, visitors can take an immersive ride, deep beneath the Mount Pleasant sorting office. Key to this ride are two giant, panoramic projections: part of a suite of audiovisual pieces created by Centre Screen during an 18-month collaboration with The Postal Museum.
“Platform One” takes visitors back through the railway’s history to its 1930s heyday. Along the way, passengers witness not just postal history like the introduction of postcodes and the bombing of the sorting office in WWII, but the development of modern society. It also includes the 1966 World Cup and Bruce Willis filming Hudson Hawk on the Railway. Authenticity was the watchword; for instance, the locker room backgrounds were shot on location to ensure accuracy. Blending archive, motion graphics and character voice performance to create a truly immersive journey, this 18-metre projection captures Mail Rail’s unique sense of place and personality as well as its story.
“Platform Two” integrates newly shot characters into 1930s backdrops. It follows three letters from writer through the postal service to recipient, bringing to life the Mail Rail platform at its peak. Filmed over four days against a green screen backdrop 18m square, it called for hundreds of authentic period props, a cast of over twenty people, a genuine 1930s Austin car and a cat (modeled on the Post Office’s own Tibs, making his cinematic debut). The result is a 22-metre, life-size, projection-mapped extravaganza, filmed at twice the resolution of an IMAX movie and occupying over 300GB of data storage.
For the team at The Postal Museum and exhibition designers Haley Sharpe, this marks the exciting and successful end of a long journey to reveal a fascinating part of London’s rich history. We have been proud to part of the team that has made this a reality.
With production well under way on our collaboration with Redman Design for the new International Bomber Command Centre, the team went down to Lincoln to catch up with the client team, present the latest work, and take a first look at the building.
And quite a building it is, too, from the imposing black-box space of Operation Bomber Command – where our 7m projections will dominate one wall – to the airy mezzanine gallery dedicated to post-war remembrance.
There’s more to it than sightseeing, of course; seeing the space where the exhibits will run provides essential confirmation of technical and sometimes conceptual decisions. And we do like to keep talking to our clients (in this case, Project Director Nicky Barr and Curator Dr. Dan Ellin) to make sure we’re all on the same page.
For the first time, too, we were able to get a close look at the memorial spire – 102 feet tall, the same as the wingspan of an Avro Lancaster bomber – and gardens… and if any part of the physical structure drives home the scale of Bomber Command’s sacrifice, it’s this. Over 57,000 RAF personnel died waging this controversial part of the war; to see their names carved into the patinated panels in the shadow of the spire… even on a warm day, we felt a chill.
Telling this story well and honestly, commemorating “those who served and those who suffered,” is a responsibility we all feel keenly, not least because some of us have personal connections to Bomber Command. And we’re all looking forward to seeing our films and interactives up and running in situ, when the Centre opens later this year.
Centre Screen where were proud to work alongside the Newbiggin-by-the-sea Maritime Visitor centre and the local people of the town to create a passionate and emotive film about the vital role of the Mary Joicey lifeboat in saving the lives of many people along the Northumberland coastline.The immersive film was designed to connect the lifeboat, not just with the immediate imperative of saving life lives, but also with a way of life that has shaped this community over centuries.
Local stories helped not only to guide the AV’s narrative, but also the content production where local poetry, photography and voices where were featured in the final film.
Thanks to their local involvement, the film presented a truly unique and personal story, which honoured the role of the lifeboat crew in a sensitive and inspirational way.
Please support the vital work of lifeboat stations such as Newbiggin-by-the-sea by supporting the RNLI SOS week.
Centre Screen have been blown away by the feedback received from visitors and critics in regards to our most recent project at the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition “Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity”. She was one of the most iconic women of her time, her life was said to be a real costume drama and so being involved in retelling her extraordinary story through immersive projections and newly created musical scores has not been without its challenges.
We worked with exhibition designers Hara Clark and National Maritime Museum’s internal hardware specialists to produce a number of AV installations that help tell Emma’s story for the artist, politician and pioneer that history has often forgotten and we feel that our actress, Amelia captured the tone of the exhibition perfectly.
We have been speaking to Interpretation Curator, Sarah Wood about how it was to work on the project along side us, her own views on some of the challenges we faced in creating this exhibition and of course her favourite aspects of working on Seduction and Celebrity…
What was your favourite part of the production experience?
Attending the filming and audio recordings were my favourite aspects of developing AV content. It really felt like a huge turning point in an ambitious project and a moment where ideas started to become a reality. It was exciting working with some fabulous actors who skilfully brought characters to life for audio extracts of key letters in the exhibition. Above all it was great finding and working with ‘our Emma’. The lovely Amelia starred as Emma in two major audio visual interventions for the show: an extensive and artistic performances of The Attitudes, and a dramatic imagining of the love letters written between Emma and Nelson. Being present at the filming of these aspects of the show was great fun.
Which exhibit did you most enjoy working on?
I loved working on all aspects of the AV for ‘Seduction and Celebrity’ but developing ‘The Attitudes’ was the most challenging but also rewarding – we’ve had a really positive response from visitors and staff about the final product.
At the museum, we extensively researched the attitudes. We looked at first-hand accounts of how the Attitudes were received by 18th century audiences; we studied prints and drawings of the different gestures, props, costume and poses required to piece together an interpretation of what this (then) new and radical form of performance art would have been like. Then, working with Centre Screen we embarked on a series of technical challenges about how to make this an immersive experience as a centrepiece for the exhibition experiences in a large circular space in the centre of the exhibition space.
What were the technical challenges of the project?
There were quite a few technical challenges for the project that were fun to work through.
Working out how to make Emma’s performance feel intimate yet dramatic for our audiences was key. This took a lot of technical wizardry, a lot of time and conversations and testing. We went through several iterations of how we would construct, film and project the experience, experimenting with different projection spaces and styles before arriving on our final scheme.
What surprised you the most about the filming process?
I hadn’t ever worked with green screen technology before and it was really interesting to see how that process worked on the shoot and how the magic of post-production brought it to life. The sheer scale of the set up needed to film in green screen and also to create the simple but dramatic lighting and staging for the Attitudes was really interesting.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learnt just how much technical skill is involved, from the filming process to post production to on site-installation. Large-scale audio visual elements of exhibitions require a huge group effort and expertise from across the museum and everyone at Centre Screen too: photography, choreography, digital and graphic design, costume, hair and make-up etc.
It also surprised me how much maths was involved in trying to map digital elements into physical spaces We had to plan a lot for projecting the attitudes in to and on to a circular wall, and on site installation was a complex job to fine tune. We also had to plan how a digital projection of Emma reading love letters could feel like a realistically scaled extension of the physical gallery space. There was a lot of discussion and technical planning about angles and spatial reasoning.
To mark the UN’s International Week for Science and Peace (first observed as part of the Year for International Science and Peace in 1986) we’ve been looking back at our past projects – in particular, the London Science Museum’s ‘Information Age’ exhibition. We installed our contribution to this project back in 2014, and it made us wonder about the role of Science and Technology as a force for good in modern society, especially whether advances in communications technology have been for the better.
All in all, we’d say: yes. Connected digital devices have made us faster and more efficient as a society; we’ve made good use of the endless information at our fingertips; and, as technology brings global integration, it brings us closer to a global civilisation. At first, tying this exhibition into Science for Peace seemed a bit of a reach but, after taking the time to explore the exhibition and its stories, I found that the whole place is about bridging the gaps in communication between countries and continents. That’s quite literally the case with the story of transatlantic cable-laying, an attempt to connect America and the United Kingdom.
The Exhibition tells a winning tale of the ambition, audacity and ingenuity of inventors and inventions. Each of its six zones represents a different technology network: The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web. The gallery explores the key events that shaped the development of these networks, from the growth of the worldwide telegraph network in the 19th century to the influence of mobile phones on our lives today. Each section takes an engaging approach to a facet of the “Information Age”, presenting both an overview of its own contents and part of a grand, overarching narrative – a fascinating take on the socio-cultural history of technology from the 1840’s onward.
Most of the challenges we faced on this project came from translating abstract ideas (like the theories published in Alan Turing’s 1936 paper ‘On Computable Numbers’ – a stepping stone to later technologies to be found in the exhibit) into a family-friendly, physical exhibition. The interactive pods and matching app, with its tasks and games based on the gallery’s content, are specifically designed to engage a family audience. Without this approach, I personally believe the exhibition would be lost on younger visitors. Indeed, at first, the sentimentality and nostalgia of this vast exhibition might seem aimed at an older audience – but once you delve in to the content, nostalgia is replaced by inspiration. It’s a pleasure to lose yourself in the stories of the pioneering men and women who created the communication technology we now take for granted.