Olympic museum goes interactive

A travelling exhibition called Hope is starting life at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne before heading further afield to spread the message of the ‘Olympic dream’. It uses interactive media to strike up a dialogue with visitors, employing gesture recognition and touch technologies. Anna Mitchell reports.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland has opened a new exhibition called “Hope” that employs display technology and interactive elements to express the “Olympic dream”. De pinxi, based in Brussels, Belgium visualised, designed and installed the travelling exhibition.

“Prior to the exhibition we had been in contact with the museum through different trade shows and exhibitions,” explains Philippe Chiwy of De pinxi. “So we were invited to submit a tender for this new exhibition.”

The Olympic Museum wanted the 700m² Hope exhibition to embody the theme “When sport can change the world”. It aimed to “provide an expression of the Olympic dream and present a humanistic, optimistic philosophy of life”.

“I think our proposal got the project because we incorporated more multimedia elements,” continues Chiwy. “We have worked with the museum for more than ten years and we knew we needed to propose an innovative solution, mixing products and media. We wanted to be able to make the link between the two and establish a dialogue that provide context to objects using media.”

Chiwy and the team at de pinxi proposed an idea that utilised interactive projections and displays. The idea was to provide visitors with a hands-on way to create the context between objects and stories and between stories and heroes of the stories.

A series of exhibits utilise Panasonic and Mitsubishi projectors and Mitsubishi, ELO and Philips LCDs in innovative configurations throughout the exhibition. De pinxi created all content and the software that drives and controls the displays. Content is played out on Macintosh computers connected directly to displays to obviate the need for long cable runs and signal extension. For non-interactive video de Pinxi used the existing Digital View media players from the museum.

The exhibition is split into eight sections: The Olympic DNA, Proclaiming equality, Pacifying exchanges, Giving everyone a face, Carrying on despite the dark days, Giving hope, Building hope and Believing.

The audio installation is fairly simple, although multilingual, and played from Content on Apple Macintosh computers. “Everywhere there is sound,” says Chiwy. “Each piece of the exhibit is supported by sound. We have some kind of dialogue between the interface you are using that produces sound so the visitor creates the show. The idea is to create a story.

“We used a Bose sound system with many of the speakers being reused from existing stock the museum already had.”

Visitors enter The Olympic DNA section and are greeted with a 13m long panorama made up of cutaways and light sculptures. This walkway is titled Contributing to peace and explains the Olympic Truce from antiquity to modern times. The museum wanted to convey the passing of the torch that it says “symbolises peace, togetherness and light”. So, as visitors pass in front of the basins lining the route they symbolically light the torch and carry it on to the next position.

Also within the Olympic DNA section is a huge, interactive digital book. De pinxi provided its digiBook product to present visitors an extract from the Olympic Charter. The themes are presented in multiple languages with all content developed by de pinxi.

“The touch table is made with a Mitsubishi LCD panel and a NextWindow touch overlay. We opted for this solution because delivery was easy and simple and it was compatible with Mac OS,” explains Chiwy.

Also housed within the Olympic DNA section is an exhibit titled Blending colours. De pinxi wanted to demonstrate that the Olympic flag is a symbol of the universal nature of the Olympic spirit. The interactive feature uses a 42” Mitsubishi touchscreen to show how the colours of the Olympic flag are found in all the national flags.

Next along the exhibition path visitors are presented with a projected media mosaic created by a Panasonic projector. Chiwy describes this as an Animated Media Planet. “We developed some software that give you the feeling of looking at a planet in the universe,” explains Chiwy. “You can see each component of the planet is made of small pictures. Those pictures are coming from a huge database of testimonials from people describing how sport was or is hope for them.

“Some of these are pre-recorded testimonials from famous athletes. But content is also generated from a Facebook page set up for the exhibition. We let people record their own testimony and have provided the customer with software that allows them to monitor and control the content. Obviously when you have this kind of access online you need to be sure of the content.

“This section of the exhibition is impressive. It acts as an AV sculpture that evolves according to the life of the exhibition. It is projected onto a large wall by a Panasonic projector running content from an Apple Macintosh computer. We’ve implemented sensors to track people through the exhibition and target the content accordingly. This part of the exhibition is visually very compelling and attractive.”

The second section of the exhibition is called Proclaiming equality. Here, the zone is divided into three sections devoted to women, Afro-Americans and ethnic minorities. Each section houses the same technology and presents a large interactive display that allows the user to select a famous athlete that is representative of a particular topic.

The athlete is selected on a touchscreen and their story appears on an immersive projection system. Lighting is used to highlight objects in display cases that are part of the story. The visitor can then see physical objects that were used in the events described by the athlete.

“When you have selected an athlete they tell their story to illustrate a point,” says Chiwy. “For instance in the equality of women section you can learn about a female athlete from Saudi Arabia that was recently allowed to go to the Olympics in the same dress as her competitors.

“There is a touchscreen on one side of the large display, that is integrated into the exhibition furniture, which allows you to select the story. The story is then played out on the large display in front of you.

“We have created the large display in two different ways. We have provided a big projection using Panasonic projectors and we have a multiscreen system with five Mitsubishi LCD panels,” explains Chiwy. “Controlling the lighting of the exhibition to highlight the objects relating to the story being told creates a link between objects and media. Visitors will find this an unforgettable association because they have created it themselves.”

The third section is titled Pacifying exchanges and aims to demonstrate that sometimes at the Olympic Games it is sport that succeeds where politics fails. To reflect this de pinxi supplied its interacTable, a concept is has used in other exhibitions.

“We’ve used the product before but this one is bigger. We’ve used sensors that enable gesture interaction on a surface that is 2.4m by 1.2m. To create this we’ve projected onto the surface with a Panasonic projector.”

The large touch table is designed as a symbolic representation of a negotiating table. Animated puzzle pieces, depicting opponents, are jumbled together on the table. When the visitors match up the pairs they trigger a giant projector that explains how the opponents were brought together by the Olympic spirit.

“The table has 22 pieces of a puzzle which the visitors has to find and match up,” illustrates Chiwy. “For example, we have one piece of the puzzle that is North Korea and other is South Korea. If you select them and assemble them on the table it will animate a story about how the two countries collaborated in the Olympics.

“There’s also a story of a friendship that developed between a black American athlete and a German athlete at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. Everything would suggest the two athletes would enemies but if you put together the two pieces then you see a story on the big screen that explains how the two athletes were from enemy nations, how Nazi Germany was strongly racist and yet they were still able to become friends.”

Chiwy explains the thought process behind the table solution: “We try to propose innovative content and then explore the media that will support it. So we develop the interaction that will fit the message and only then figure out the media that is most suitable. The table idea seems to enable people to discuss around a topic and therefore was a suitable solution to represent negotiation.”

In the fourth section, Giving everyone a face, de pinxi has devised a 3D graphics animation simulating the parade, projected onto a large support structure which represents the Olympic stadium. As the Games proceed, visitors can see the ever-growing number of national committees which have emerged since the modern games were founded. The animation also presents key facts in relation to the theme, concluding with the powerful symbol of the final parade where all the nations come together.

“We developed most of the computer animation in 3D and it could be run stereoscopically. For this location though it was a bit difficult to set up the glasses operation. In the end stereoscopic projection was not used anywhere. We wanted to but at the end of the development process it was cancelled, probably due to budget considerations.”

Carrying on despite the dark days is an exhibit designed to acknowledge the bad times the Olympics has known. The often tragic stories are represented on 8” and 10” Philips LCD screens on a tree-like sculpture. The videos played out on the screens are designed to appear as dead leaves, hanging from broken branches.

“It’s a mix of furniture and sculpture,” says Chiwy. “We created a background decoration which is a print and then we set up branches made of steel or wood. On some of the leaves we have the LCD screens and we give the impression of everything falling to the floor.”

De pinxi has employed its own software and a customised IR camera to create motion tracking technology for the Giving hope exhibit. This was created to tell the story of how the Olympic movement, coupled with international organisations, can use sport as a tool for education.

The interactive feature allows users to trigger a display of information my miming the action of sewing seeds before a display before seeing the projects develop. A plant shoot, the emblem of the exhibition, carries the images.

Audience interaction with the exhibition lasts well outside the museum walls via the Building hope section. Visitors can return to the stories presented in the exhibition by answering a few questions on an ELO touchscreen. This allows them to create a personalised clip encompassing a snapshot of great sporting, cultural and political events of their choice.

The clip is downloadable on the exhibition site and visitors can add their photograph to create a souvenir they can share.

A final exhibit, titled Believing, consists of a multipurpose standing projection room containing 36 individual audio positions to avoid contamination using a traditional sound system. De pinxi supplied Bose headsets and developed software for distribution. The projection room utilises a Panasonic projector.

About 90% of the brackets and mounts in the exhibition were custom made although Chiwy did utilise some Vogel’s products.

Hope was designed as a travelling exhibition with each element able to be moved and installed separately with relative ease. So where does Hope go next? “The have some plans and there are already some demands,” answers Chiwy. “It is likely a piece of it will go to the Olympic Games in London next year and other pieces will travel to sports museums around the world.”


Bose loudspeakers and headsets

Digital View media players
Mac minis and Mac Pros
Mitsubishi XD250U-ST projectors, LDT422V and MDT521S LCDs
NextWindow touch overlays
Panasonic PT-FW300 projectors
Philips BDL3251E LCDs
Vogel’s mounts

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