77 years since London’s heaviest night of bombing: Our virtual reality enables a new generation to experience what the Blitz felt like
The 29th December 1940 was a terrifying night to be in London. It saw the most intensive Luftwaffe action since the Blitz started on the 7th September 1940, with more bombs dropped that night than on any other night of the 57 day air campaign.
As a consequence over 1400 fires raged, one covering half a square mile.
It was the night that the famous photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral showing through smoke was taken by Herbert Mason and a night that 14 firefighters died, along with hundreds of civilians.
Fast forward to the present and a 360 animation produced by creative agency ‘LIQUONA’ based in leafy Surrey has enabled school children to better understand what it was like to endure that Luftwaffe bombing.
360 video is often referred to as Virtual Reality (VR) and can be viewed online or for best results via a headset. Wearing a headset plays stereoscopic 3D video on each eyepiece, which closely mirrors the viewers head movements, giving the viewer a highly realistic illusion of being in the environment and ‘looking around’.
Originally a concept piece developed to showcase their 360 animation capabilities, ‘The London Blitz’ animation allows viewers to find themselves taking refuge in Holborn station during a Luftwaffe bombing raid on the city overhead.
The distant cheery sounds of music playing gives way to the haunting and familiar sound of air raid sirens, followed by the inevitable sounds of bombs thudding ever closer overhead. Lights flicker and dust falls from the ceiling until the bombing subsides.
The piece was developed by the agency in 2015 as a ‘concept piece’ to showcase how their traditional cinematic storytelling skills could translate to emerging 360 video technology. The video was subsequently shared as an ‘open source’ file byLIQUONA on various websites for 360 video and virtual reality enthusiasts to enjoy.
The Blitz was chosen as a scenario to animate in 360 simply because it was an era in history that some of the staff were interested in and one they felt was worth remembering and therefore needed to be experienced.
But it was not until late 2017 when the company started to receive comments and tweets from people around the world who were using the content to educate future generations, that the value of what they had created became clear.
“Since the early days of 360 production becoming commercially viable in around 2012, we have taken a keen interest in developing the technology for communications because it is so highly immersive; it gets your full attention and that’s a rare and valuable occurrence these days”
Comments Matt Day, Creative Director of LIQUONA.
“We’ve always believed that 360 and subsequently virtual reality brings incredible new opportunities for education and training. Back in the day we approached London establishments, museums and galleries with the invitation to be an early adopter of the technology and told them about our London Blitz experience, but no one seemed interested. Institutions seem to prefer to go with what they know rather than take a risk with something new. It was frustrating for us but we thought the London Blitz was too good a piece to keep to ourselves, so we ‘put it out there’ for others to enjoy and sort of forgot about it, then tai year started getting feedback that people were using it!”
The virtual reality designer and animator behind the project, Alex Green, explains “We started receiving hundreds of comments online and were tagged in a video tweeted by JESS Dubai, a British School in Dubai, UAE. They had used our 360 film in a history lesson and recorded the reactions from children after they had experienced The Blitz! I’m so glad they reached out to us as their remarks left me genuinely speechless. I was bowled over by the impact our 360 film had made on their learning and it suddenly made the days of work it had taken us to make it worth every second!”
The video of the students which was published online by Steve Bambury, Head of Digital and Learning at JESS Dubai, features school children in year 6 who have just experienced the virtual content on HTC Vive headsets who comment:
“It was really quite real and helped me a lot with my writing as I could hear and feel what was happening during the Blitz.”
“When you’re inside the train station and the bombs start falling on you.. I was just crouching down because it was so real”
“This will help my writing because I felt that I was actually there, even though I knew I was at school”
“They really were engrossed in the activity. It was super to see how much they enjoyed it,”
said David Murphy, Head of Computing at JESS Jumeirah.
Teachers also remarked how virtual reality is itself a bombshell which brings new levels of cut through to aid learning, as seen in it’s portrayal of The Blitz.
Tom Edge, a Year 6 Teacher commented online
“I can compare the same lesson I did last year with this year’s lesson on poetry to describe the Blitz.. The engagement, the questioning and the conversation that went on this year blew my mind because of the things the students were picking up on that you can’t pick out just from a picture. The VR was so immersive and the descriptions we got out of it as a result were amazing. As a learning experience there is nothing else like it.”
Known for innovating new media, LIQUONA have since developed true virtual reality production services, meaning viewers can not only look around in a 360 film, but also use their real hand gestures to pick up virtual objects in the virtual film to activate and change what they experience.
Matt Day reflects,
“It’s great to see that we really were ahead of the curve with our early 360 production capabilities and even better that people are now discovering and using that content in such a positive way. As we deliver ever more immersive and interactive VR experiences for companies it’s genuinely mind blowing to consider where we can take this technology.”
“Are you shaking?” asks a teacher from behind the camera in the JESS Dubai video “Yes” answers the student with a toothy grin.
The JESS Dubai video can be viewed on youtube here.
The Blitz Experience can be viewed in 360 via youtube here.
For more information contact vr@LIQUONA.com