A platoon of camouflaged soldiers steps from a Blackhawk helicopter and eases quietly through the yellow-green night-vision glow toward its target. Once the troops assemble against an exterior wall, an explosion blasts through an adjacent door. The midnight raid is on.
It’s not real for visitors to the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL, but a new virtual reality (VR) exhibit with vivid audiovisual elements gets them as close to the action as possible.
“The museum wanted to show the experience of a modern soldier and [what it’s like] to be in their shoes,” said Kevin Snow, creative director at Luci Creative, one of the firms behind the VR experience. “We wanted to create some sense of empathy for how hard it is, through their eyes. The natural progression was to start looking at what we might do through the VR world.”
The First Division Museum tells the history of the first permanent division of the regular U.S. Army, formed in 1917, to serve on the Western Front of World War I, through tanks, artifacts, and more from every theater of war where the division has served.
Part of a major exhibit redesign completed in August 2017, the museum’s VR experience transports 14 visitors at a time to a compound raid from the cabin of a replica Blackhawk. Video content captured from a four-camera rig, including 360-degree footage, gives visitors the soldiers’ point of view, while augmented stereo sound effects blend with human voices for a realistic immersion into a modern military campaign.
“We felt that allowing people to get on board a Blackhawk helicopter, put on a VR headset and be immediately transported to the moment of being on the helicopter with a squad—and then go with those guys through the entire operation, and really see what it would be like—was something unique,” Snow said.
Museums are moving outside the traditional exhibit space by exploring creative ways of getting visitors inside their stories and subjects. Audiovisual technologies are playing a lead role in these immersive and interactive spaces.
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