The Australian War Memorial's main site, located at the foot of Mt. Ainslie in Canberra, Australia, commemorates the sacrifice of Australian men and women who have served in war. The recently constructed ANZAC Hall, a $11.9 million extension to the War Memorial, features an innovative fan-shaped design by leading Australian architects Denton, Corker, Marshall. The Hall is large, measuring 8m (26') high, about 100m (330') long and 30m (100') wide, in order to contain the larger objects of the museum's collection. Geoff Cobham of Bluebottle was commissioned by Freeman Ryan to design the lighting for ANZAC Hall.

“‘Object Theatre’ is a new form of presentation in Australia, although I haven't seen much of it overseas either,” he says. “Put simply, it means using theatre techniques to bring static objects to life. Ultimately we plan to do three pieces of object theatre in the room but at the moment the budget only extended to the first — the midget submarines. Instead of just using text and AV to tell the story we have animated the object so it is part of the story.”

The night of May 31, 1942, World War II came to Sydney. On this night, three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbor. Two torpedoes were fired, one exploding under HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21. One of the midget subs vanished, never to be seen again; the other two were cornered, their crews committing suicide before the vessels were salvaged. Parts of those two submarines were joined together to form one that has become an icon of Australia's military history. Not only is the story of the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbor told, but also the epic World War I battle between HMAS Sydney and the German raider SMS Emden. Innovative light and sound techniques bring to life the stories of these two important chapters in Australia's military history.

“We chose equipment that has been developed and proven by the rock-and-roll industry: intelligent, moving lights,” says Cobham. “I looked at several moving lights but the Clay Paky Stage Zooms proved the most flexible and theatrical in that they were quiet, smooth, accurate, had a good zoom, and have a series of gobos that lend themselves to creating atmospheric environments. I had expected to have to use more custom gobos but the standard glass gobos enabled me to create the many looks that were needed.”

Cobham's main aim was to make the audience believe that the submarine was floating in water. By mixing an out-of-focus rotating glass gobo with a prism and the right colors he achieved a fantastic water effect. “We were able to make the submarine look like it was moving through the water by changing the rotating pace of the glass gobos,” says Cobham. “We made the submarine appear to surface by running the water down its sides. We imitated explosions within the submarine with a couple of Geni Gigastrobes.

“I like to use old technology as well,” Cobham continues. “White Light makes a ripple machine that has not changed in design for over 30 years and this unit is still the most effective representation of light reflected off water. I positioned five of these under the submarine to ensure that it was completely surrounded by light.”

The lighting crew spent three weeks of nights installing and another three weeks plotting the show. It was programmed with a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II and then loaded into an ELC DMX Showstore recorder. The ELC recorder is triggered by a Dataton system on the half-hour. “It's a very simple and effective process but, best of all, no one can muck around with the programming unless we bring in the Wholehog II!” says Cobham.

The museum wanted unobtrusive barricades around some of the exhibits, so the LD came up with the novel idea of projecting gobos of barbed wire onto the floor around them. This not only kept hands off exhibits but it also fitted perfectly into the theme of war, and yet didn't put a physical barrier between the audience and the exhibit. “It was a very crisp rendition of barbed wire that we surrounded some objects with,” said Cobham. “The gobos are glass, made by The Gobo Factory. It's an idea we're looking to expand on with future installations at the museum.”