War Time Tunnels
When English Heritage opened the new attraction at Dover Castle, “Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkirk,” it deployed audio-visual and show control technology from AV systems integrator Electrosonic to recreate the drama of World War II’s Dunkirk evacuation.
Situated in the network of 60-meter long secret tunnels, 26-meters underground behind the famous White Cliffs of Dover, the attraction makes extensive use of AV technology to present the events of May 26 to June 4, 1940. In the highlight of the attraction, 23 projectors create giant images that run the entire length of the space augmented by spectacular lighting effects. German fighter planes appear to zoom down the entire length of the tunnel immersing visitors in the action on the Dunkirk beaches, while another scenario shows eerie-silhouetted figures hunched over a table planning the evacuation from within the tunnels. Since opening the attraction in June, English Heritage has seen an increase in net income, paying and non-paying visitors and membership subscriptions.
Electrosonic and Denmark based Kvorning Design & Communication which designed and produced the new attraction, faced some difficult tasks, including working in a historic site, dealing with the climate underground and projecting images in spaces where no surface is straight. During the design phase, Electrosonic’s Design Consulting team worked with Kvorning to determine the audio-visual solutions to meet their creative designs. The design works included ‘AV and control design’ in sufficient detail to allow reliable budgeting and form the basis of tender documents. Full sized tests needed to be conducted and 3D CAD techniques were used to model the projection optics.
“Providing a series of audio-visual experiences in the listed tunnels underneath Dover Castle has presented some very unique challenges,” says Dirk Bennett, acting head of interpretation at English Heritage. “Electrosonic has provided the expertise, experience and creativity to come up with solutions which will create an immersive and exciting experience unique in the area of heritage interpretation.”
Dover Castle is known as “The Key to England” in its role as guardian of the nearest landing point to mainland Europe. The tunnels at Dover Castle were begun in 1797 when Britain faced the possibility of invasion by the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The tunnels formed a safe underground barracks for British troops. Most importantly, it was the place where the rescue of the British army from Dunkirk was planned in 1940.
“Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkirk” takes parties of up to 30 people at a time through eight zones featuring original newsreels, recordings, veterans’ testimonies and special effects, which portray the rescue of the British army from Dunkirk, France – planned in the Dover Castle tunnels.
The show begins in The War Begins cinema, an underground briefing room with a mock 16mm projector and blackboard, the latter actually an LCD panel covered in black gauze, which displays the events leading to war. After passing through a corridor of tunnels, visitors arrive in an underground war room for The Battle of France presentation. Two walls of the large space show archival footage; animated graphics are projected onto a low table in the center of the room by a Panasonic 6300 projector. As the presentation ends and the crisis builds, images spill over the table to fill the pyramid-shaped sides of the table.
The highlight of the attraction is “Rescue from Dunkirk Casemate Z” set in one of the 60-meter long tunnel spaces or casemates. Giant images are displayed on the entire length of the tunnel via 23 Optoma EX785 DLP projectors, computer-controlled to ensure synchronization and to warp and blend the images into one long panorama. Spectacular lighting effects augment the projections, which include fighter planes that appear to zoom down the entire length of the tunnel against a backdrop of ships and small boats. In another sequence, silhouetted photos give the eerie feeling that those planning the evacuation are still present in the tunnels.
Audio in these zones was designed by Electrosonic to meet the needs of Kvorning’s sound designer. Sound is used not only for narration and special effects but also to draw visitors through the space.
After the show concludes, visitors are free to circulate in Aftermath zone areas that depict how the tunnels were used following the evacuation, especially during the Battle of Britain. LED lighting simulating original filament lamps is particularly evocative here. The exhibits are supported by ambient audio, display panels and video “labels” that display films showing how the spaces were used during the war. All have English, French and German soundtracks.
Additional interactive displays overlook Dover Harbor in the exhibition space above the gift shop; a series of listening points allow visitors to hear the oral testimonies of veterans.
“We have worked in close and positive collaboration with Electrosonic on the AV installation in the secret wartime tunnels,” notes Kvorning Design’s Arne Kvorning. “As a team we’ve jointly created one of the largest permanent projection set ups in Europe. The experience is absolutely breathtaking, bringing the history of the tunnels to life.”
For the project, Kier was the main contractor for the associated building works, COWI and the Light Bureau were the lighting designers, Stouenborg the audio designer and producer, Kvorning and Homerun the media producers, and MDM the creators of the special effects and set work.
Electrosonic is an international AV company with a strong reputation for working on complex projects, both large and small, and has through its 47 year history developed lasting partnerships with customers and suppliers. Electrosonic brings a unique breadth of experience to each project; backed by solid engineering skills, project management and quality production facilities. Beyond complete integrated systems, Electrosonic can provide a wide range of services including technical design, maintenance and operational support.
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