Falcon’s Creative Group realizes high-tech Nat Geo D.C. exhibit

3D ‘Tomb of Christ’ museum presentation recreates holy site


AT: Dean Lamanna

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thanks to a unique creative and technical collaboration between Orlando-based Falcon’s Creative Group and National Geographic (Nat Geo), the experience of a recently restored holy site in Jerusalem has been recreated through a new exhibition in the nation’s capital.

“Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience” opened at the National Geographic Museum in mid-November. The immersive presentation, scheduled to run through this fall, combines storytelling and archeological expertise with 3D and virtual technology to bring the sacred, ancient location to life.

Nat Geo had an exclusive opportunity to document the historic 2016 renovation of the fourth-century tomb of Christ and its protective shrine (known as the Edicule), located in the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, by the National Technical University of Athens. A team traveled to the site to create a top-to-bottom record of it through high-resolution scanning, photos and video.

As design and digital media supplier, Falcon’s Creative Group, which also collaborated with Nat Geo on the innovative virtual animal attraction National Geographic: Ocean Odyssey in New York City, helped transform the extensive visualization data from the church into a multimedia projection experience.

David Schaefer, vice president of Falcon’s Creative Group, served as the lead on his company’s contribution to the project. A graduate of the the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering, he has managed and/or contributed heavily, to attractions such as Inspiration of Flight for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and TurtleTrek – 3D 360 at SeaWorld Orlando, among many others, in his more than 10 years with the company.

Amusement Today spoke with Schaefer about the special creative nature of the Nat Geo exhibition.

How did the “Tomb of Christ” museum project come about?

Photo by Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

National Geographic self-performs temporary exhibits at their Washington headquarters lasting anywhere from six months to a year to support its current magazine articles and other things they have going on. They were documenting the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and their team just saw it as a tremendous opportunity to take their visit to the next level.

We started brainstorming with them in latter 2016, and we proposed leveraging some high levels of technology to transport National Geographic Museum visitors to this church in Jerusalem. To hear the passion in the stories from Nat Geo’s archaeologists, explorers, researchers and staff writers — with these little details of elements within the church that you’d never get from reading a magazine article — was inspiring.

How else did Nat Geo contribute?

In documenting the restoration, they had already begun scanning and recording the church in incredible detail using LIDAR [light detection and ranging, via a pulsed laser] scans and photogrammetry [using multiple photos of objects to measure and recreate them in high-quality digital form]. These are tools used by scientists, researchers and archaeologists. We were able to use those assets in creating the exhibit’s media content — sharing 3D digital models and visual files of the church back and forth — so we did not have to go to the actual Jerusalem site.

There was great synergy between the documentary’s research requirements and what we were trying to do with the exhibit on the entertainment and educational side. Compared to our more traditional theme park projects, where we create things more out of thin air, we worked together with the Nat Geo team and utilized their 100-percent-accurate computer-generated media.

What were some of the creative decisions you had to make, particularly with integrating 3D and other technologies into the exhibit?

Photos by Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

One of our leading philosophies at Falcon’s is that technology should be used as a tool — it shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of the experience. We approach all of our projects from the storytelling experience standpoint first: What do we want to tell the guests? What do we want them to experience and feel? After we identify those things, we start the conversation on which technologies are best to do it.

In the brainstorming sessions with Nat Geo, we decided we wanted the exhibit to put guests inside the church. Very quickly we went to the heavy media-based type experiences, leveraging 3D for the exhibit’s main scene where we actually take guests through the church.

Was there an opportunity to incorporate virtual reality (VR)?

There’s a lot of debate about VR, and we always caution our clients that VR is a very personal and isolating experience. When you put on a VR headset, you are, for the most part, alone in an environment. There’s pros and cons to that, but we think some of the more successful attractions are the ones you can enjoy with family. We lean more toward creating a larger space where we surround guests with media.

In this case, we have 3D media that stretches around the perimeter of the room and continues onto the floor. It is a group experience.

As a secondary opportunity, there also are VR stations. After you’ve experienced the main scene in 3D, you can then put on a VR headset to explore the church in more detail — to choose your own path and spend a little more time looking at specific elements.

Aside from the 3D and VR aspects of the experience, what are some other highlights?

Since it’s a walking experience, with guests pulsed in groups through multiple rooms every 12 minutes, we wanted each room to have a unique perspective. The first room is kind of an introduction; it has some set pieces and props that recreate some of the little shopping bazaar that’s right outside the church in Jerusalem. In the next scene, we use projection mapping to try to recreate the feeling of the church’s courtyard before you enter the 3D experience that takes you inside.

We actually utilize several projection techniques offering different perspectives and points of view to change it up from one scene to the next, which keeps guests engaged.

Seems you’ve created a valuable experience for those unable, or unwilling, to travel to the site.

We’ve heard guests say, “This is amazing. I’ll never be able to visit Jerusalem to see it, but this is the next best thing.” While others have said, “I had no idea experiencing this exhibit would make me want to add the church to my bucket list.” It can be either fulfilling or inspiring, and that has really touched us.

How did you address crowd control and throughput?

Nat Geo already had some good information, since their exhibit spaces have been operating for a while now. They had baseline numbers as far as expected visitors and the throughput we needed to target, and we designed the exhibit to that criteria.

Working with an organization with such a tremendous amount of respect is something we take very seriously. It drives our team to push the envelope of quality and really make sure we’re delivering. And it comes down to good collaboration — our team working with their team — to make sure that we’re honoring their standards of excellence. We are happy with this project.

What does the exhibition represent in terms of Falcon’s Creative Group’s expanding services?

When the company started a little more than 17 years ago, it focused on attraction design — which certainly played a part in this experience. But we’ve had significant growth over the past several years in our digital media division, which produces media content. This project is a snapshot of that. It shows not only that we were involved in experience design, but the actual production of media.

We’re tapping more into VR and augmented reality, a growing area of the industry, because we see ongoing opportunity for those tools to enhance the guest experience. We’ve been able to bring in team members with specific knowledge in those areas, so we have an even more diverse offering of the types of media and projects we are confident in producing.

We’re staying current and relevant to the trends and evolution of technology. And we’re staying busy. The industry seems to be really strong right now, which is good for everyone.


This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Amusement Today.

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