Ireland was represented at the Venice Film Festival Awards Ceremony held this weekend by Immersive VR Education, an Irish virtual/augmented reality software outfit, run by Sandra and David Whelan.
1943: Berlin Blitz, a VR experience film created by the company was just one of 28 films to be nominated for the Virtual Reality Film Award (Linear Category) at the Venice Film Festival.
In February of this year, the Waterford-based company won a commission from the BBC Northern Ireland’s Rewind archive innovation team, in conjunction with the BBC’s central VR Hub, to work on the creation.
Having attended last night’s event David Whelan, CEO, said that the nomination was a real “game-changer” for them.
“The experience of last night’s ceremony was surreal and thrilling in equal measures and, if I’m honest, not something we ever envisaged when we first began our company in 2014. But we have all worked very hard to get to this point, so we will take this recognition from our esteemed industry peers, and we will use it to further our vision for our company.”
1943: Berlin Blitz puts viewers in the shoes of BBC war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and allows them to retrace his journey on a genuine bombing raid to Berlin at the height of the Second World War.
The creation takes the viewer into the belly of a Lancaster bomber high over Berlin, with anti-aircraft shells bursting all around, while Wynford’s dramatic commentary vividly captures the danger, the exhilaration and devastation of the bombing raid.
David spoke of the windows of opportunity this nomination has now opened for Immersive VR Education.
“When we first heard of our nomination in this category, we were blown-away – we knew that a Venice Film Festival nomination would afford us a platform to reach a wider and even more diverse audience, which is absolutely crucial in getting our message out there. And it goes without saying that for our work to be recognised in this way is undeniably gratifying.
“From the beginning, the project in itself has been hugely exciting for us and working with the BBC VR Hub was been a fantastic experience. Initiatives like this really allow us to move forward on the primary goal of the company, which is to bring immersive technology to distance learning and to transform how people all over the world learn and experience events both past and present.”
The VR Experience
From inception to creation, the project took six of the company’s 34-person team four months in total to build.
David described the process: “To create the experience, the team gathered hundreds of photographs of Lancaster bombers and all of the original mission data in order to recreate the historic event. We pretty much recreated the mission with everything being historically accurate, right down to the smouldering Berlin landscape below.”
Immersive VR Education used BBC Archive footage of the original radio broadcast of Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’ report that went out over the airwaves on September 4, 1943, just a few hours after the Lancaster Bomber plane landed back at RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire.
The Lancaster was the most successful heavy bomber employed by the RAF in World War Two and, along with the Spitfire, became something of a British icon in the wake of the war. More than 7,000 of the planes were built, flying upwards of 150,000 sorties.
David went on to comment: “The Berlin Blitz project has been a highlight of our working life thus far – and our achievement in Venice is very much the icing on the cake.
“Working with BBC Northern Ireland’s Rewind archive innovation team, and the BBC’s central VR Hub has been a fantastic experience. Initiatives like this really allow us to move forward on our primary goal, which is to bring immersive technologies, such as AR and VR to distance learning, and to transform the ways in which people all over the world learn about and experience events, both past and present.”