Along the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, the 96-year-old Mill No. 3 is nestled against the side of a mountain. Shut down in 1974, the 20-story national historic building was reopened in 2010 as the Britannia Mine Museum. Launched on June 1, BOOM!, a live-action, multi-sensory special effects show, transports visitors back to the 1920s when the Mill was booming as the largest copper producer in the British Commonwealth. Over 130 artists, designers, technicians, and engineers collaborated together to bring one of North America's last gravity-fed concentrator mills back to life through elaborate lighting and visual effects, sound design, and special effects.
Show designer and producer Vista Collaborative Arts was invited to create the immersive storytelling experience, made especially challenging in a 20-story open interior building with 18,496 windows. "We watched the museum guests as they toured the bottom level of the mill," says Randal Ormston, creative director from Vista. "As people entered, they suddenly became quiet. Chatter became whispers as they behaved as if they had entered a European cathedral. The first sight of the inside of the abandoned building’s structure was commanding and awe-inspiring. We knew we had to retain that first impression in our developing story."
"We always think about the story first," adds Scott Weber, show and media director from Vista. "In this case, the question was, 'What actually happened in this incredible space?' The answer involved not only explaining the process, but also bringing the space back to life, to allow the audience to feel the power and scale of all those giant crushing and grinding machines in action."
The resulting 13-minute immersive experience has three acts. First, visitors find their seats at the base of the skip track before a 70" portrait screen where a video host tells the story of how the Mill received ore and rock and processed them into copper concentrate. Vista created a large, deep, shadowed area so video could be projected on a large screen and provide lighting designers and special effects programmers from Eos Lightmedia a space to create depth and drama.
"The Mill presented several challenging elements for lighting," says Stefan Zubovic, lighting and special effects programmer at Eos Lightmedia. "The building is covered in thousands of windows, which create a surplus of ambient light. The building also has a very high level of humidity and dust accumulation that would prove problematic for a lot of lighting fixtures."
Lead lighting designer Steve Bedard of Eos Lightmedia specified the SGM P2 LED wash as the workhorse that would illuminate the structure of the Mill and enhance the practical special effects. "The P2’s high lumen output and IP65 rating saw it as the perfect choice for the challenging environment," adds Zubovic.
In Act Two, the host moves to a large 14' projection screen and takes the audience on a tour of all levels of the Mill, complete with computer animations of each of the giant machines in action while lighting effects pull focus to the specific level. In Act Three, the host impishly decides to power up the Mill for a sound and special effects finale.
"Sound becomes a dominant element," says Ormston. "When the Mill was in full operation and crushing large rocks into fine sand, the sounds of those giant machines could be heard for miles around and throughout the Britannia community."
Sound designer Tim Archer from Masters Digital installed 30 point-sourced loudspeakers with sound levels mixed to the same decibel levels as an IMAX theatre to create a dramatic soundscape of the Mill at full operation. "He really got the place rumbling, so you can feel it in your chest," adds Weber.
Performance Solutions designed and installed a series of custom spark machines and dust cannons throughout the Mill. "The SFX units are used to electrify control panels, shower sparks onto the stage area, and emulate old machinery coming back to life," says Zubovic. "We strived for authenticity with the special effects. Scott and I spent hours perfecting the correct colors, intensities and sparks, flames and explosions to exhibit through the lights and the SFX units. Then, show lighting and the Performance Solutions SFX units were programmed and triggered through an [ETC] Mosaic MSC 1 with a Mosaic MRIO-A for timecode input. The timing of the SFX and lighting was crucial to the integrity of the show. The video and audio narration calls for certain ‘machinery’ to be activated at different points throughout the experience. Using Mosaic’s intuitive timeline structure, we were able to quickly program, synchronize, and adjust the different elements with the show’s main timeline source."
Indeed, the finale brings the audience into the impressive chaos of the Mill. Three different fog effects simulate collisions, broken pipes, and the overwhelming build-up of silica, a deadly byproduct of mining. Sparks from construction welding cascade down three stories. Multi-colored sparks fire out of an ancient power panel. A pine scent envelopes the audience on cue as the video host mentions the pine oil used to extract copper from other rock.
The most commanding visual element is the skip. The Museum has preserved the original skip, a 3-ton rail car that was capable of transporting a 12-ton load up and down a 45° incline to various levels of the Mill. For the theatrical show, Dynamic Attractions built a mock-skip out of raw steel to mimic the weight and movement of the original. Set fabricators BOLD and 3DS decorated the skip to look authentically vintage.
"The climax occurs when the skip unexpectedly starts to move up the 45° track with the audience seated at the base of the track," explains Ormston. "The host stops the skip. Three-quarters of the way up, the track then brings up all the sounds of the Mill in full operation, one floor at a time. Suddenly, the skip begins to move again and all special effects start to mis-fire. The host runs to the panel and shuts down all the power to the Mill, restoring the abandoned silence. The skip then plunges towards the audience and ends with a dusty thud."
BOOM! is an informative and captivating show that successfully immerses the audience in a truly you-are-there experience that captures just how challenging it must have been for the more than 60,000 people to live and work there.
- VISTA Collaborative Arts - Show Designer & Producer
- Eos Lightmedia - Show Lighting Design & Lighting/ SFX Programming
- Masters Digital - Sound Design
- Performance Solutions - Special Effects Design
- Dynamic Attractions - Skip Automation
- CPS Electronics - Show Control
- BOLD - Set Fabricator
- Gloo Studios - Visual Effects
- MVCC Video Communications - Video Supplier
- Echo West Developments - Project Manager
Lighting and Special Effects Gear
- 18 SGM P2 POI
- 15 Chauvet Professional Ovation E-260WW
- 7 Chauvet Professional Colorado 1 Solo
- 4 Barn Light Original Gooseneck
- 4 Pace Illumination Avant Garde AGA-Arm Mount
- 1 Doug Fleenor Design DIM 8
- 1 ETC Foundry Mini Relay Panel
- 1 ETC Foundry Phase Adaptive Dimmer
- 4 Antari AF-4
- 2 Look Solutions Viper NT Fog Machine
- 1 Performance Solutions Custom Spark Shower Machine
- 4 Performance Solutions Custom Spark Shooter Machine
- 2 Performance Solutions Custom Dust Cannon
- 1 CPS Electronics Custom Rotating Video Monitor and Screen System
- 1 ETC Mosaic MSC 1
- 1 ETC Mosaic MRIO-A
- 1 CPS Electronics Custom Show Control System