Semper Fi

"Semper Fidelis" has been the U.S. Marine Corps motto since the service branch was established over 200 years ago. The translation of the Latin, "Always Faithful," was also the operative phrase in designing and assembling the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which will viscerally document the Corps' history when it opens later this year in Quantico, VA. And like the amphibious landings the Marines are famous for, the museum's 40 individual and often highly immersive exhibit environments will have benefited from a massive amount of pre-invasion planning.

The $10-million install utilizes several primary contractors, including integrator Design and Production in Lorton, VA; content developer Batwin & Robin in New York City; and set builder ThemeWorks, near Orlando, FL. For Design and Production, it was one of the most complex installs it has ever undertaken. "Our contract includes all exhibits, audiovisual and lighting systems for the museum galleries, and to bring the building engineering in synch with the exhibit designs, as well as provide electrical engineering services and electrical installation to extend infrastructure to support the galleries," explained project coordinator, Sue Lepp. "The interesting and challenging work is to coordinate software production plans to exhibit elements and the physical space."

With five separate control rooms running each of five themed areas in the 20,000-square-foot museum, enumerating key eras in Marine Corps history such as World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the exhibits are complex, combining hardware, software and challenging physical structures, such as an entire CH-46 Chinook transport helicopter and actual tanks. The solution was to coordinate all the contractors through Design and Production, where displays were first assembled virtually, using CAD systems, and later physically, putting pieces from various contractors together to assure that they worked before moving them to the installation site. "'Pre-installation integration' is critical for something like this," Lepp pointed out. "It enables us to fast-track the entire project, and it helps contain costs."

An example of how this process unwinds is seen in a display showing a typical American family in a living room around a vintage radio. As news of the attack on Pearl Harbor emanates from JBL Control 23 speakers off an Alcorn McBride 8-TRAXX MP3 player, the wallpaper above the wainscoting, which had been illuminated by a lightbox, now becomes the scrim for scenes depicting the attack and its aftermath projected by an NEC LT-265 video projector.

"The entire scene was assembled here first because we have to size the images to the stage and get exactly the right balance between the lightbox and the projector," said Dale Panning, senior engineer for Design and Production.

Other displays, though, have to come together for testing before all the components are ready at Design and Production's facility. In the Iwo Jima immersion display, museum-goers will move from a briefing room where a map of the island is projected onto a topographical board to give a three-dimension image, into a full-scale recreation of a Higgins boat, a WWII-era landing craft whose huge front ramp seals them in as Clark Synthesis bass shakers give them the feel of a rough ride towards shore. Four NEC projectors create a seamless environment with edgeless projections that illuminate screens placed above the 8-foot-high sides of the boat.

"ThemeWorks is still working on the Higgins boat, but we needed to check how to edit the video and position the projectors so that the images are realistically close to the viewer but don't overlap the top edge of the boat's sides, which would destroy the illusion," Panning said. Even before the video program itself is ready, generic stock footage is used to check for the best color for the scrims.

Other immersion techniques will have to wait until the final installation is ready to take place, such as the turbulent downdraft, generated by huge fans in the ceiling, simulating the prop wash made by a CH-46 Chinook helicopter as it descends into a "hot" landing zone during the battle for Khe Sahn in Vietnam. Aboard the actual military surplus transport helicopter, participants hear radio chatter over concealed JBL Control 23 speakers. "Things like the audio can be checked out ahead of time and synched to the dynamic aspects of the display," Panning noted. "But we obviously have to wait till we're on site to position the fans."

Other displays can come together piecemeal, with framed stand-ins to allow placement of key media platforms. One such is the bus that pulls into the induction depot at Quantico. An actual bus will have its windows replaced by Samsung PPM50MSG 50-inch plasma screens, positioned in a portrait orientation, that will show video images of recruits arriving to become Marines as dialogue and sound effects play from JBL speakers concealed in the bus. "We can position the plasma screens in a masked-off frame in such a way that give us a good idea of where they'll actually be once the bus gets here," Panning stated.

Some displays can be set up rather quickly to check functionality of components and program, such as the audio handsets that use model 1H-189 communicators used by both the military and the museum and made by Sonetronics.

Design and

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