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Mixed Reality Brings Liberation Struggle to Life at Paris Museum

A modern take on the historic struggle to liberate the French capital from Nazi oppression has been launched at the Museum of the Liberation of Paris. The museum, which opened in 1994 as the Musée Jean Moulin in honour of one of the Resistance’s greatest heroes, has since been renamed and it is now a pioneer of ground-breaking mixed reality technology. The Microsoft system, HoloLens, has been deployed in the museum to bring much of the final struggle to overturn the German invaders to life.

According to Nino Sapina and Diego Fernandez-Bravo of Realcast – the mixed reality specialists who developed the high-tech visitor experience – the opportunity to use HoloLens at the museum was an exciting one. The museum is situated in a government bomb shelter that was first constructed in 1938. However, the site was left unoccupied during the period of Nazi takeover in the French capital from June 1940 onwards. It ended up being used as a base for some of the Resistance networks that sprung up in Paris. As of August 1944, following D-Day, it became the centre of operations for the Resistance as the Paris uprising began.

The Technological Challenge

For the Realcast team, the proposed use of technology meant they had an opportunity to make utilise mixed reality in a museum but also at a site of historical value in its own right. “We simply had to tell this story in the actual place using HoloLens,” Sapina said. According to the pair, HoloLens meant that they were able to meet two needs. Firstly, it allowed them to show an enhanced historic space by developing augmented reality reconstructions of what it would have looked like in the run-up to the uprising.

Secondly, the use of HoloLens goggles meant that there was no practical limit on visitors’ movements in the bunker, so they were able to explore the space on their own terms over an approximate 45-minute period. Realcast also said that they were pleased with the way the HoloLens system was practical in what was a “particularly constraining space”. The shelter is full of thick concrete walls and narrow passageways which meant that other digital services that might run over Wi-Fi, for example, were impractical.

Bringing History to Life

The mixed reality installation was commissioned last year to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of Paris, an event that occurred 75 years ago. Since then, visitors to the museum, which is beneath the Place Denfert-Rochereau in the city’s 14th arrondissement, have been able to immerse themselves the insurrection like never before in the place where many of the key events unfolded. The dynamic experience means that any visitors who choose to wear the HoloLens equipment are immediately involved in the action.

The mixed reality experience begins with a briefing by a member of the French Interior Forces who performs the role of a guide. Attendees are encourage to assume the role of a journalist who is covering the events for a French newspaper, a form of cover that was used by several members of the French Resistance during the occupation. The mixed reality installation then encourages visitors to explore the whole site which is split up into many rooms where they can discover the secrets that these headquarters have to offer up.

As well as experiencing virtual characters who might have been involved in the action back in 1944, visitors can handle real objects and to interact with various testimonies and recordings made by real people. The exhibition also includes video archives that cover real events during the liberation struggle. As such, the technology blends the real and the virtual so it is a genuine example of the way mixed reality installations can be used in modern museum settings.

Improved Visitor Content

According to Philippe Rivière and Scarlett Greco, who both work at the museum, the use of mixed reality technology allows for the perfect canvas for this story to be brought to life on. “[HoloLens] allows us to showcase richer content without distracting the visitor from the historic nature of our site,” Rivière said. After all, the main aim of the museum is to educate people about this important chapter of French history, one which continues to shape the way many French people think about themselves and their country’s role in the Second World War. To do so in a new and engaging way simply means that they are making the story of the liberation of Paris more relevant to today’s and future generations.

“Mixed reality is the future of the museum experience,” said Fernandez-Bravo. “It is such a powerful educational tool that can amplify the cultural impact [of museum exhibitions]… to broader populations.” According to him, this is because the ‘magic’ of mixed reality enriches the sensations we experience in the real world by showing what would otherwise go unseen.

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About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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