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VA Tech Creates Immersive Display for National D-Day Memorial

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation will add layers of immersion to this year’s D-Day remembrance with the help of Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT).

“D-Day changed our world, and the men and women who participated should never be forgotten,” said April Cheek-Messier, president and CEO of the foundation. “It was a pivotal event in our history, and it is now the responsibility of each of us as citizens to reflect on what they did to preserve freedom for us all.”

June 6 marks the 80th anniversary of the Allied forces’ invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II. It will also mark the first time the ceremonies at the National Memorial located in Bedford will include moving pictures and sound.

A rendering generated from aerial photography of the National D-Day Memorial. Illustration by David Franusich for Virginia Tech.

“We wanted to do something we had never done before with a truly immersive experience that would envelop the crowd,” Cheek-Messier said.

The experience consists of a short audio-visual production, written and created by ICAT and the foundation, that will include first-hand accounts and utilize the memorial itself as the literal backdrop.

“It’s a 25-minute projection show, telling the story of D-Day through first-hand accounts,” said David Franusich, ICAT’s multimedia designer on the project. “We accomplished it using archival illustrations, photos, and film footage — carefully assembled, animated, and projection-mapped along with spatialized audio.”

The National D-Day Memorial officially opened in 2001 as a tribute to the largest amphibious assault in history, which is generally recognized as a major turning point in World War II. Bedford was selected as its location because the town lost 20 residents who served as a result of the invasion, making it the United States’s highest known per capita D-Day loss.

Cheek-Messier said previous celebrations have always held the utmost importance for the foundation, but as veterans age and pass away, the 80th anniversary could be the last significant opportunity to thank many of them publicly.

“We also wanted to reach an even younger audience and engage them in a new way while detailing the D-Day story and why it still matters today,” Cheek-Messier said. “Having worked with Virginia Tech through the years, including a close relationship with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, we felt it would be the perfect partnership. We knew that ICAT had the creativity and talent to make our vision a reality.

ICAT technician test the projector at the memorial. Photo by David Franusich for Virginia Tech.

The collaboration is reflective of both ICAT’s mission to bring together people across disciplinary boundaries to harness artistic expression in ways that benefit society and Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

“It is an honor for ICAT to contribute to this national moment of remembrance,” said Ben Knapp, executive director. “I am proud of the uniquely transdisciplinary team of students and faculty at ICAT who used collaborative and iterative design to create a compelling narrative brought to life with a multimodal array of lighting, projection-mapped visuals, and immersive audio.”

The memorial is at 3 Overlord Circle in Bedford, approximately 80 minutes from Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.

Event information

June 6 (no tickets required)

  • 11 a.m.: Observation of the 80th anniversary of D-Day includes recognition of World War II and D-Day veterans, music, speakers, military vehicles, living history displays, and book signing

June 7 (tickets required)

  • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Tours of the National D-Day Memorial
  • 7:30 p.m.: Opening concert
  • 9 p.m.: Projection show on the memorial monument

June 8 (tickets required)

  • 7:30 p.m.: Opening concert
  • 9 p.m.: Projection show on the memorial monument

June 9

  • 11 a.m.: A field chapel service. Admission is free from 10 a.m. to noon.

For more information, see the detailed schedule of events and purchase tickets online.

By Rodney Kimbangu

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