Merlin Entertainments has worked with Figment Productions in collaboration with AV experts, Fusion, alongside Delta Audio and MDM model makers on the Little Big City visitor attraction in Berlin, the culmination of over 30 months’ work.
Merlin Entertainments is the company behind Madame Tussauds, The Dungeon, SEA LIFE and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. The idea for the Little Big City was to show Berlin’s history in an exciting and engaging way.
This would see a series of 3D interactive miniature sets brought to life with captivating sights, sounds and special effects. It would take visitors on a journey through time from medieval Berlin, the industrial age and the Weimar Republic, to WWII and the post-war period. Each display reveals a captivating story from that era.
The video and audio equipment needed to be discretely installed in and around the models but create a gripping effect on visitors as they move through the attraction. As access into the models would be restrictive and problematic both in terms of physical access and the maintenance time available, it was imperative the equipment was reliable and needed minimal maintenance.
The team used architectural drawings, photos, Google street view and cutting edge software to ensure everything was drawn to scale. For the buildings, each part was crafted individually out of 3D printed plastics, machined acrylic, plywood and MDF, cut to a tenth of a millimetre. Larger buildings were created using Fused Filament Fabrication, which builds up thousands of layers 0.2mm at a time to create giant structures. The model makers and carpenters then assembled all the pieces, weathering them to make them appear time worn, before handing them to the painters.
We also chose laser because they offer versatile orientation, including portrait mode and downward projection, which gave us the flexibility we needed
Ian Carling, Fusion
With around 100 speakers, 36 projectors and 15 screens set in and around the models, Little Big City immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and stories of Berlin from the 13th Century AD to the present day. The journey through the miniature city is self-guided and each scene has an individual show.
The welcome show for the attraction gives the illusion of the city shrinking which introduces the concept of the miniature sets. Imagery was blended to wrap around three sides of the 8sqm room using five Optoma ZU400UST ultra short throw laser projectors. This relatively small room would have 25 people on the tour, so the projectors needed to be installed close to the walls so there are no shadows.
After the welcome there are a range of other scenes including Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate, the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 and The Cold War, before the finale, which shows modern Berlin on Millennium eve.
“The models are so impressive and have some lovely historical touches like the Lindenburg flying overhead or characters that visited the city, including David Bowie and JFK. Each character stands 10cm high and were 3D printed,” said Mark Wootton, head of technical delivery at Figment Productions. “Every building was laser cut. So much care and attention went into making the model accurate to capture that snapshot of life at that time.”
Ian Carling from Fusion explained: “Having installed Optoma projectors in many other projects, we know they deliver high quality imagery while being reliable and cost-effective. We knew they would deliver the team’s ambitious vision within the budget without compromising quality or reliability.
“We used mostly Optoma lamp-free laser projectors throughout the attraction as they provide 20,000 hours operation with virtually no maintenance. Little Big City is open 364 days a year from 10am-7pm. This leaves little time for maintenance. In addition, access to replace bulbs would be difficult above the model and most of the displays are edge blended, so we didn’t want these disturbed. We also chose laser because they offer versatile orientation, including portrait mode and downward projection, which gave us the flexibility we needed.”
All AV feeds back to a centralised control room and HDBaseT was used to send the signals to the laser projectors. The technical team at Little Big City are able to monitor the equipment over the network and control this at the touch of button.
“This place is magical and charming, educational and fun,” commented Wootton. “We used all the tricks of the trade to create this magical little city. It was real challenge to create the illusion that visitors shrink and recreate the sights and sounds of Berlin through the ages to make it feel like a noisy, bustling city. We are delighted with the end result. It was a real pleasure to work on this project.”
Carling said: “Visitors get absorbed in the stories and experience a real mix of emotions as they walk through. From nervous tension at the bombing raids to joyful excitement. This emotional response is not just due to the content of displays but also how it is delivered – the sounds and special effects play a major role in making this such an exciting attraction to visit. We are really pleased with the performance of the AV equipment. It looks brilliant!”
Anja Nitsch, general manager, from Little Big City, said: “This was a real labour of love. We are delighted with how the visual effects really bring to life both the model and the epic events in Berlin’s history.”