How giant frickin' laser beams are being harnessed to create amazing, multi-sensory, learning experiences

T3 takes a closer look at the innovative new projector systems from Panasonic that are transforming European museums

There are thousands of museums around the world, some good, some great and quite a few that could do with a breath of fresh air to bring their dusty old exhibits to life. So, what better way to reinvent the traditional museum concept than harnessing it to modern technology. Panasonic, which already has a rock-solid reputation for its conventional projectors, has quietly been doing just that with a series of pioneering projects that take projection capabilities to new levels.

 Innovative edge

The company has teamed up with two prime locations in Denmark, the Moesgaard Museum near Aarhus and the Faengslet Prison Museum in Horsens, which sound miles apart in terms of subject matter but offer a similarly cutting-edge experience thanks to the power of projection. Panasonic visual systems help to create a multi-sensory experience at both and, as a result, have managed to pull in three generations of visitors intrigued by this fantastic new way of spicing up the exhibits.

Moesgaard Museum

This stunning concrete structure is built, wedge-like, into the side of a gently sloping hill in the middle of the Danish countryside. However, step inside and you’re soon exploring the fascinating history of Denmark and beyond.

Panasonic has installed a raft of different laser projectors inside the exhibits, that take you from a quirky intro area onward through the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age I and Iron Age II before charting the story of the Vikings, as well as boasting a detailed area on Anthropology. There are also additional projectors in a temporary exhibition area. In total, 67 of these laser light gems deliver the audio-visual experience. 

High-tech solution

The great thing about the new laser light projectors is that they’re perfectly suited to heavy use in places like museums. Each model offers around 20,000 hours of maintenance-free operation, which means lower operating costs over time and they also power up in an instant. So, when a visitor walks past an exhibit, it comes alive right away with no waiting around for the projector to warm up and get its act together, as would happen in the dim old days.

These things are powerful too, with up to 6500 Lumens of brightness in some models that come armed with liquid cooling and a filter-less dust resistant construction. Meanwhile, an airtight optical block cuts out operational noise making them virtually silent.

Versatile design

Adaptability is another crucial requirement for the new laser projectors, which tend to get mounted in all manner of positions, depending on the exhibit they’re complimenting. Sometimes they’re on the floor, and at other times they’re on the walls or roof. All boast multi-screen support too, which allows any museum to effectively stitch images together to create seamless large-scale productions and presentations.

The projectors are strategically positioned throughout the museum and, when knitted together with clever lighting and some theatrical design make every exhibit come alive. Indeed, some segments are filmed externally, using actors and green screen techniques, to add another air of realism to the visitor experience after installation.

 Behind bars

Faengslet Prison Museum, on the other hand, takes you back in time in another way. It’s an imposing four story structure, commissioned in 1853 and which closed in 2006. Latterly it was also home to incarcerated Hell’s Angels who did an efficient job of running their own show from the fourth floor, where artwork on the walls hints at the colourful history of the place. However, it’s the technology that helps to recreate the mystery and intrigue of the prison as you take a tour around the silent corridors.

Warm welcome

Step through the heavy front door and you’re greeted in the reception area by silhouettes of inmates being chased up and down the claustrophobic walkways by hostile guards. It’s surprisingly lifelike and, again, these scenes were carefully scripted then acted out using green screen techniques beforehand. Once completed, the set pieces are projected onto the walls in glorious high-definition to great effect. You even get to pick your own prisoner identity card when you first check-in, and these can be tapped on various interactive displays during the tour so you get a real taste of the life and times of the prisoner you picked.

 Living exhibits

As you follow the tour there are numerous experiences that further help invoke the chilly, harsh history of the prison. There are some 56 Panasonic projectors peppered throughout the thick walls of the jail, with the bulk being Solid Shine laser units. No less than 45 of Panasonic’s potent PI-RW33EJ models help to deliver some of the best moments, and these units are super-efficient.

Panasonic says that conventional projector lamps run at 100% of their power requirement. That means they also need to produce 100% of the brightness, regardless of the brightness of the image they are projecting. 

Better way

Conversely, laser diodes, are smart, dimmable light sources, which means that they will use 100% power only when full brightness is needed. This innovation operation works perfectly with their strategic placement, which can be above jail cell doors, in cupboards and above stairwells to create a variety of dramatic scenarios for visitors to experience along the way. This works to great effect in the case of former prison inmate Sonny Rasmusson, who has since become a virtual guide. His bulky figure is projected in a variety of locations where he proceeds to recount stories of the life and times of the inmates at Faengslet.

Clever twist

What is most impressive about these projectors is their power and clarity. Step inside a cell or turn a corner and the crystal-clear image will appear with remarkable definition. Designers have used digital mapping to ensure that virtual images of someone like Sonny Rasmusson appear exactly where he is supposed to. Perched on a desk or standing in the grim shower room, Sonny looks like he is actually here, even though he isn’t. It’s a theme that runs throughout your visit and adds a novel twist to what would otherwise be just an old building with a history. Here, the history comes alive.

Authentic air

It’s not just about projectors though, because there’s obviously been a lot of thought put into the layout of the exhibits and how visitors encounter each illumination along the way. In selected areas of the jail, the sensory experience is heightened still further as smells are ‘projected’ into the dank cell room spaces to invoke a true prison feel. A faint whiff of cannabis along the way fires up your imagination and the numerous bits of drug paraphernalia on display conjure up an ethereal picture of what it must have been like to be a resident.

Bright future

Add it all together and you get a classic cocktail of traditional museum exhibits meets new technology. Both locations hope that it’ll encourage families to come along and enjoy the atmosphere, and, so far the experiment seems to be working. So, if you thought projectors were boring and needed a bit of sexing up then a visit to this brace of museums might convince you otherwise.