The National World War II Facility Tells a Familiar Story in a Powerful New Way

Nov. 3, 2009

State-of-the-art technology and special theatrical effects create an immersive, emotional experience

When the National World War II Museum in New Orleans commissioned The Hettema Group to produce a new cinematic experience about WWII, the group was presented with a daunting challenge – how to tell a well-known story in a fresh, new way, and grab the attention of a new generation.

“In order to capture the imagination of the younger generation, we’ve used state-of-the-art technology and special theatrical effects to create an immersive, emotional experience,” says Phil Hettema, president and creative executive at The Hettema Group. “For older Americans, we absolutely made sure we got it right by working with leading historians, doing extensive research, utilizing archival photographs and footage, and ultimately paying homage by telling the story in the very words of those who were there.”

“What’s especially exciting is that, in meeting this challenge, we’ve created the most sophisticated presentation that you’ll find in any museum in the world,” says Hettema, who served as show producer and creative director. “What’s distinctive is the complexity of the production and the number of different systems – multi-image projection, full surround audio, special theatrical effects, moving 3-D scenery, and a state-of-the-art, Internet-based control system that coordinates more than 2,000 individual cues throughout the 35-minute presentation, and it’s accessible remotely for diagnostic monitoring.”

Amazingly, it all operates automatically at the touch of one button. “The goal is to make all of that technology invisible to viewers as they’re immersed in the telling of a powerful, emotional story,” says Hettema.

The ground-breaking presentation, a 5-year project, incorporates state-of-the-art special effects that immerse the audience in a unique cinematic experience. With life-sized props, animation, and atmospherics, as well as archival footage and sound effects, audiences will feel the tank treads rumbling across North Africa’s deserts, brush snow from their cheeks during the wintry Battle of the Bulge, and flinch at anti-aircraft fire as it tries to bring down their B-17 on a bombing run over Nazi Germany. Dwarfing large screens in most traditional theaters, the Solomon Victory Theater screen at the National WWII Museum is 120-feet wide and 30-feet high. Nine digital cinema DLP projectors, plus a full scrim screen, create a multi-layered spectacle for viewers.

The full surround custom audio system features 27 speakers that transport audiences to the sounds of the jungle, a B-17’s engine roar, bombs dropping, tanks rolling, and more. Theatrical effects include an anti-aircraft gun that rises, rotates, and appears to fire above the audience, a 25-foot guard tower that rises ominously before the audience from a deep pit below the stage, and a B-17 aircraft nose that lowers from overhead rigging directly above the audience in less than 12 seconds, and six full-sized “dragon’s teeth” tank traps (large steel construction devices used to disable tanks).

Beyond All Boundaries opens Nov. 7, 2009, at the National World War II Museum’s Solomon Victory Theater in New Orleans.

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