The Scriptorium Illuminates the History of the Good Book

The Holy Land Experience is a "living museum" in Orlando, FL, which recreates the city of Jerusalem circa 66AD. (See the Entertainment Design article from July 2001.) Recently, Zion's Hope, the company that created the museum, added the Scriptorium attraction, a historical tour of how the Judeo-Christian scriptures came to be written down, preserved through the centuries, translated into English, and brought to North American shores. Themed attraction producer ITEC Entertainment, which designed the Holy Land Experience, was called on again to create the Scriptorium environment.

The attraction comprises more than a dozen themed rooms beginning in Babylon about 4,000 years ago. (Below is a pictorial tour.) Each room is a recreation of a historical time period and contains artifacts from each era, such as clay cuneiform tablets, Egyptian papyrus scrolls, and even an American pre-Braille Bible with English letters pressed upward in the paper. These artifacts all come from the private collection of financier Robert Van Kampen, whose family wanted the artifacts to be available to scholars for study and to the general public for viewing.

The 17,000-sq.-ft. Scriptorium Center for Biblical Antiquities also houses the Van Kampen foundation offices, scholarly study areas, and climate-controlled vaults that contain the entire Van Kampen collection, only a portion of which is permanently on display in the historical rooms. Other artifacts are periodically rotated in an additional gallery at the end of the tour.

ITEC producer/designer Mark A. Nichols explains, "The typical plan for each room is that there is a voiceover for about a minute and a half to establish the room and the scene, saying this is the time period, this is what happened, why it is a significant milestone in the history of the Bible. They're only two and a half minutes long, each scene, and the second half is to describe the artifacts you're looking at. It's about a 50-minute self-guided tour through these scenes.

"It's all automated," Nichols continues. "Once the guests are loaded into the first scene and show control is hit it all just runs on the clock. It's all open doorways and they are cued by the lighting. It became a convention that when the scene was done I would bring down all light, except for the lighting on the floor, and I would bring up light that framed the doorway and beyond in the next room, and people would, intuitively, go to the light. The changes in the lighting, with the exception of the special effects, are very subtle. Rich in color."

Lighting for the attraction includes nearly 400 instruments, of which more than a third are ETC Source Four Jr. Zooms. The ceiling heights are different in various parts of the tour, and "the Zoom allowed for the flexibility to adapt and adjust to the space," Nichols says. "I love the Zooms because you can maximize the amount of light that you put out before you start to shutter." There are also "an awful lot of Altman Micro-Ellipses," plus pinspots, fresnels, striplights, barndoors, and tophats.

"The approach was not unlike distributed audio," the designer comments. "Rather than having a few instruments with a lot of wattage, we had lots of smaller instruments with lower wattage, so that you had more control and more subtlety." Low light levels are also important when dealing with delicate antiquities such as illuminated manuscripts.

"The entire show is run by ITEC Entertainment's proprietary show control system that controls not only the lighting but also all the audio, video, special effects, doors, everything," Nichols says. "We used a lot of DMX, not just to control the lights but also to control a lot of the fiber-optic illuminators." The fiber optics are built into the display cases, which were custom-made with climate control, redundant security systems, heat-venting fans, and air filtering. The fiber optics are UV- and IR-filtered, and the front safety glass on the cases also has UV- and IR-filtering film laminated in.

In the display cases, "We went with a color temperature that is very different from the rest of the space," Nichols explains. "In most of the scenes, the time period was lit by some type of flame, whether it was torch or candle or oil lamp or firelight; everything is at a very low level and very amber, very warm. The cool white light that the illuminators put out set the display apart from the rest of the environment. We did not light the cases directly, and we did not light the artifacts through the case glass because you'd have bounce and glare, so the cases are self-illuminated. The lighting primarily lit the environment, the space, the floor. A lot of our guests are seniors, so there's always a low-level light throughout the attraction on the floor."


The historical tour begins with the Voices of the Prophets, which features voiceover narrative from various Bible notables, such as Moses. The room begins as a classical rotunda with a dome, and lights are gradually dimmed to accustom guests' eyes and to prepare them for a special effect.


As the audience is introduced to ancient Mesopotamia, Wildfire UV strips reveal a blacklight mural.


Nichols says that throughout much of the attraction he grazed the faux textured stone and wood walls with chocolate light, layered with lavender breakup patterns. The atmospheric lighting in each scene imitates candle or oil lamp light. For Babylon there is Le Maitre Le Flame flame effects bowls.


The famous Ishtar Gate is washed with deep-colored glass gobo projections.


The Library at Alexandria room displays several 2,000-year-old papyri.


The disappearance of the famed Library of Alexandria is shrouded in mystery, but one legend says it was destroyed by fire by Julius Caesar. Flame effects were achieved with GAM Products Film/FX loops.


The Bindery depicts a shop where parchment is made (from stretched, scraped, and dried animal skins), plus tools for leather binding, embossing, and engraving. Atmosphere is provided by wall sconces with flame-tip lamps and connected to Monarch flicker generators.


The Scriptorium shows a monastery where monks painstakingly copied manuscripts. Medieval Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Bibles are on display.


This scene shows an actor, videotaped in silhouette, writing on a manuscript. He progressively ages--he hunches over, his beard grows longer, he moves slower--and it is edited together into a short time-lapse film projected across the desk as the voiceover describes that it might take an entire lifetime to transcribe one Bible.


John Wyclif was persecuted by the Church for translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into the language of the common people. The room features an audio-animatronic figure of Wyclif from Advanced Animations. He encourages the audience to escape through the secret door behind the fireplace, and the fireplace creaks open.


Guests go through the fireplace, down a secret corridor, and emerge about 100 years later in Johannes Gutenberg's printing shop. There is a replica of the press which moves, and fragments of a Gutenberg Bible from 1455.


The following scene is William Tyndale's printing shop. Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek sources, was burned at the stake in 1536.


Outside the window of the shop is a silhouette projection of his martyrdom, which floods the room with fiery light.


John Bunyan's prison cell contains a rare first edition of The Pilgrim's Progress and his cell key. Bunyan, a Puritan minister, was imprisoned several times after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660.


Nichols cast a "moldy green" moonlight shadow across the floor, wall, and cot, and raked pinspots across the walls to accentuate the textures of broken plaster and exposed stone, lighting things obliquely and indirectly to give an "indefinite" feel to the space, and to make it feel confined.


The tour moves on to famed 19th-century preacher and theologian C.H. Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Several books and manuscripts are on display, and a flat-screen video monitor set into the far wall of the forced-perspective set shows an actor delivering an excerpt from one of Spurgeon's sermons.


The Pilgrims of the Mayflower brought the 1560 Geneva Bible to the New World. There is a painting of the Pilgrims kneeling in prayer in the snow after their arrival. Parts of the sky and their shadows on the snow are painted with aniline dye. During the voiceover recitation of the Lord's Prayer the scene goes black and the drop is backlit, the glory of God shining through the sky and casting the Pilgrims' shadows across the snow.


The Prairie Church has three pews and two display cases. There is an early pre-Braille Bible with raised English letters, and children's Bibles that have pictures in them. Lights cast gobos emulating stained glass across the floor.


Three stained glass windows are backlit with white neon on dimmable ballasts. Nichols was impressed with how the ballasts worked with the ETC Sensor dimmers. Again, the practical lights that look like lanterns have flicker generators and flame-tip amber lamps.


The final scene is a rotunda, similar to the first one, with 10 niches around the colonnade. Each niche contains a Biblical figure, including Daniel, Joshua, Mary, Peter, and Paul. There is a quote from each person, and when the voiceover starts a curtain rises to reveal their life-size portrait. These are lit with track light and soft floods with halogen pinspots aimed at the faces, which were painted to glow with a heavenly light.


After the 10 Biblical personages have been introduced, the lights go down and Mount Sinai is revealed above patrons' heads. The Ten Commandments are then "carved" into the rocky cliff, in Hebrew, with fiber optics that first glow white-hot then cool to red. The effect is supported by a Le Maitre G300 hazer.