Immersive Media Experience Inspires Visitors at St. John Paul II National Shrine

Situated in Washington, D.C. (USA), the St. John Paul II National Shrine isn’t just a place where people go to learn a bit of history. They go there to actually experience it.

Located just a short walk from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the St. John Paul II National Shrine features nine galleries that immerse visitors in the extraordinary life of St. John Paul II. It covers everything from his birth in Nazi-occupied Poland to his priesthood and ministry as bishop, all the way through his remarkable 26-year pontificate, to his death in 2005, and his canonisation in 2014.

As a gift to the Vatican, the Knights of Columbus embarked on a building renovation that would become not just a tribute to St. John Paul II’s life and work, but also a place of worship that is both a pilgrimage and cultural education. The Knights engaged internationally recognised museum planning and design firm Gallagher & Associates to tell the story and preserve the memory of St. John Paul II through A Gift of Love: The Life of St. John Paul II, a 16,000 square-foot permanent exhibit, which opened July 1, 2014.

Each year, the St. John Paul II National Shrine welcomes over 18 million visitors. Many come specifically to experience this exhibit, which features two 180-degree theatres, a multi-touch interactive table, a 6-screen interactive wall, Planar Matrix and Mosaic display systems, several computer interactives, and much more.

Gallagher & Associates had the vision for this special space within the St. John Paul II National Shrine. Design & Production Inc. (D&P) was brought in to deliver the technology. The group included several others, including Donna Lawrence Productions, who spent several days in Rome shooting footage in 5K Ultra HD, collecting archives, and recording audio, which is currently used in the exhibit.

The group worked together from the beginning to make sure everything was perfect. Digital Projection’s TITAN Quad 2000 projector was selected to bring the images to life in the museum. Boasting 20,000 lumens and 2,000:1 contrast, the TITAN Quad 2000 offers ultimate flexibility for venues thanks to a large choice of resolutions (SX+, 1080p, WUXGA) and the possibility to manage content easily thanks to geometry correction as well as warp and edge blending capabilities.

“It’s a very, very exciting format that Gallagher and Associates proposed,” said Donna Lawrence, principal of Donna Lawrence Productions. “They basically laid out the idea for the space in the theatre and challenged us to use that to greatest effect to set up the story of Pope John Paul II”.

“They completely gutted the space, so it was just a black box,” said Dale Panning, senior systems engineer at D&P, an exhibit project management, production, and media services firm. “We actually went into the main theatre and mocked up the circular screen along with Donna Lawrence and Gallagher. It can look right on the plans, but it’s got to feel right—sightlines, etc. So we worked it out in real time with masking tape. That was a luxury that sometimes you don’t have”.

The exhibit was designed so that visitors would begin their journey in a large theatre, move through connecting gallery spaces containing interactive displays and personal artefacts, and end their experience in a smaller, more intimate theatre.

“The two theatres are certainly important,” said Bob Haroutunian, principal at PPI Consulting, who was also brought in early on the project. “They represent the introductory and the exit experience. There is an entire exhibition in between the two with lots of media elements — everything from audio to video experiences to interactive touch tables, so there is a great deal between the two”.