Creating the immersive world of The Forgotten Showman
The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford is one of the leading learning spaces in the North of England. The museum, its exhibitions and programmes aim to inspire the next generation of thinkers, doers and makers. The museum explores the science and culture of image and sound technologies, helping visitors to understand the incredible impact they have on our lives.
To tell the captivating story of inventor, entrepreneur and cinema hero Robert Paul, Bradford Science and Media Museum wanted to create an immersive experience. The experiences took place in four installations for their Forgotten Showman exhibition.
Some of the key challenges included:
- Maintaining authenticity as much as possible. One of the key outputs was a Giant Filoscope (close to a flipbook), based on an original Robert Paul design. The handle and casing of the Giant Filoscope had to bear a significant amount of torque during use. People are hands on at museums and our design needed to withstand the rigorous use of hundreds of visitors. Our casing needed to be robust as well as visually similar to the original flipbook it was based on.
- Making the installations work as planned at all times. For another of the installations, Trick Films, we had to make sure that the boxes can only be triggered by the correct token, not false positives. We also needed to ensure tokens had enough magnetic pull to stay on the boxes while visitors finish matching the other boxes.
- Ensuring each installation was safe for visitors. Another showcase piece, Time Machine, uses rapid-moving fans that blow air at visitors, so it was important to make sure that the blades cannot be accessed and debris could not get into the fans. We also had to design Circuit Activated AV so that the electronic components couldn’t be accessed by visitors.
To create the world of The Forgotten Showman, we put together four installations that each captured the magic of Robert Paul as a pioneer of British cinema:
Visitors can immerse themselves in Paul’s work by flipping through the Giant Filoscope; a scaled-up version of his handheld flipbook. Large enough to use landscape A3 paper, it has an operating handle that can be moved by hand, offering an engaging experience for anyone. We made sure to stay true to the design of Paul’s original flipbook as much as possible, incorporating graphic elements that mimicked its style and colour.
Behind the scenes: To prevent the Giant Filoscope snapping or warping during use, we designed it with two layers of plywood and 3D printed additional internal supports to reinforce the casting.
Reflecting the work that Robert Paul did as an engineer, Circuit Active encourages visitors to complete an electrical circuit by touching two capacitive pads at the same time. By completing the circuit, visitors are greeted with a minute-long video clip that explains one of Paul’s medical inventions: the Iron lung.
Behind the scenes: For Circuit Active to work, we used capacitive paint (paint that conducts electricity!) and wired it up to a Raspberry Pi with a Bare Capacitive Shield.
Perfect for any film fan, Trick Films is an interactive game where visitors match film techniques to the examples playing on three screens. Players must place foam board token pieces onto the target positions on three wooden boxes. If the token is placed correctly, the player is congratulated by an applause sound effect.
Behind the scenes: Magnet nerd alert: we made sure that the boxes and tokens aligned correctly using Hall sensors and magnets.
Time Machine is inspired by one of Paul’s inventions that was way ahead of its time: an early 4D cinema. A truly immersive film experience, Time Machine incorporates various physical effects to bring the video to life.
Behind the scenes: Watch out! To prevent debris being caught inside, we used mesh covers on both ends of the fans.