3D projection brings Cromford Mills to life

forced perspective 3D projection of sir richard arkwright at cromford mills, UK

Tasked with getting people engaged with the story of the first water-powered cotton mill, D J Willrich believed there was no one better to tell museumgoers of Cromford Mills’ history than owner Richard Arkwright himself. Charlotte Ashley reports.

How do you get the internet generation to understand the transformation of the world that took place during the industrial revolution?  For AV and multimedia specialists D J Willrich, the answer was to bring the past to them with forced perspective 3D technology.

Funded in part by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund, the new £5 million (approximately €5.8 million) ‘Gateway’ centre at Cromford Mills sits in Derbyshire’s Derwent Valley, an area in the middle of the UK synonymous with the Industrial Revolution, neighboured by 16 other sites which make up a World Heritage Site. The mill called upon Tandem Design – long-term collaborators with D J Willrich – and interior specialist Marcon, to widen the appeal of the 18th century site, with visitor attendance previously dominated by the over-45 market (81%).

Tandem came to D J Willrich with the concept for a Gateway featuring a presentation and interactive table, but had no plan for the other room in the mill. Encouraged by the results they achieved on a similar project at Port Edmonton in Calgary, the integrator pitched creating a forced perspective 3D projection of the mill’s owner in what would become the “Arkwright Experience.”

“The first time we went into the mill the ground was so damp the scaffold started to sink.”

After 20 years of cleaning (due to contamination at the ex-paintworks), the Grade-I listed building still presented problems when work began. “The first time we went into the mill to do the big projection the ground was so damp that the scaffold started to sink,” recalls Chris Willrich, project manager at D J Willrich. The team at one point were also left covered in lead chromate whilst grinding down the ancient ceiling beams to hang from and narrowly avoided a trip to hospital.

Installing the two Barco PGWU-62L projectors – chosen for their high lumen output and colour balance – was integral to creating the presentation, but proved another challenge. With temperature as low as -5C and humidity ranging from 70-90% from the canal below creating an inhospitable environment, the integrator had to install custom IP-rated projector housing and three dehumidifiers.

During the presentation a ghostly actor portraying Richard Arkwright appears at the front of the screen to greet visitors and explain the history of the mill. A projector at the back of the room shoots on to a rear projection screen to create various historical backdrops, the effects of which are heightened by the original foundations of the mill being purposefully exposed. Arkwright is projected on to a front projection gauze constructed from a fine woven composite plastic mesh located in between the rear projection screen and the lighting bar (used to highlight various landmarks mentioned in the presentation). He is also projected onto a forced perspective floorboard that joins up with the projection from where visitors stand to complete the effect.

Show control is simplified for volunteers with two buttons, one for a standard show and one for the subtitled version, controlling the Medialon system.

touchscreens on 3D-modelled table in Gateway centre at Cromford Mills, UKElsewhere in the Gateway centre visitors are invited to learn more about the Derwent Valley with a bespoke 3D-modelled table exploring the history of the 15-mile textile factory complex. Six 22-in Planar embedded touchscreens provide details on what they can do and see at different locations. Seven Windows Surface tablets also allow volunteers to share information with visitors and book them into other attractions. The entrance area features a show about the site, and can also serve as cinema or presentation space, equipped with a Panasonic RZ470 projector and a Bose audio system.

The centre officially opened to the public in March 2016. Whilst access to the rest of museum is free, Cromford Mills charges a small admission fee for adults and children to see the eight-minute presentation - an idea the integrator was initially sceptical about. “My personal view is you have a small fee for the whole thing, or you don’t, but they set the price at such a level that people seem happy to pay for it, so our opinion changed. It’s a good thing for the entire industry because it means they’re going to have more money to engage more people doing activities and installations in the future,” says Willrich.

Sarah McLeod, chief executive at the Arkwright Society, said: “Right from the outset the challenge was how to create a stunning visitor experience inside an 18th century building which was to remain derelict. I couldn’t imagine how it could be done given the environmental conditions and the buildings’ Grade I Listed status. The presentation is unlike anything we have ever seen before – an extremely clever way of telling a story. Our visitors are blown away by it.”



Bose loudspeakers, amplifiers, audio processor and sub bass

Crown CT8150 amplifier

Denon DN-A100P amplifier


Barco PGWU-62L projectors

Brightsign HD220 media players

Hallstage custom rear projection screen and front projection gauze

Medialon show control

Optoma ML1500e projector