Dare to Discover | A VR Journey

On board of East Indiaman 'Amsterdam', the VR journey 'Dare to Discover' brings visitors back to the 17th century when Amsterdam was the world's largest port and the Netherlands was a world power. The ship has been converted into a futuristic time capsule, equipped with 22 swivel chairs, creating an environment that inspires and intrigues.

The story, constructed through a series of physical and emotional effects, begins with an exciting vertigo effect as the virtual camera rises to the top of the mast and then takes off. From that moment visitors embark on an exciting virtual journey, immersing themselves in the busiest harbour of the world at that time. At the start of the VR the Amsterdam skyline is still open. During the VR journey new land is created. Visitors experience the creation of the impressive shipyard and the Zeemagazijn (storage depot for the Dutch navy) – now home to the museum – and the construction and launching of a warship. The Montelbaan tower is also visible, with traders of different nationalities and the supply and discharge of goods and services.

Closely and from a distance, visitors are watching a variety of things going on, both up close and from a distance, and can move about in the hustle and bustle of moving ships and little rowing boats in between the ships being completed. Flying through the harbour, feeling the wind blowing, they experience they are really being part of it. Because the visitors do not have headphones on, it is an activity you really experience together. "Hey, look to the left, it looks like that ship has been set on fire!"

The meticulously reconstructed Amsterdam harbour brings the experience to a blockbuster movie level. The story ends with the emotional moment of families saying goodbye to their loved ones, the Dutch East Indian Company sailors and soldiers, embarking in the VOC for a long and perilous journey to the East. And don’t we see Michiel de Ruyter walking there with his wife along the quay?

Source of inspiration
The story of ‘Dare to Discover’ is inspired by the masterpiece ‘View of the River IJ with ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn’ by Reinier Nooms in 1664. This painting shows a number of warships in front of the current building of the National Maritime Museum. The watchful observer recognizes in the VR journey Reinier Nooms, one of the most important maritime painters of the 17th century. He had the nickname Zeeman (Seaman) thanks to the many voyages he made.


Besides a fantastic visitor experience, ‘Dare to Discover | A VR Journey’ is an innovative experiment in the use of modern technologies such as VR, in the creation of special experiences. In this experience, high tech meets history.

The technology that powers 'Dare to Discover' is a bespoke system that integrates the latest in hardware and software. In terms of hardware there are 22 especially adapted, latest technology Virtual Reality viewers, connected via a show control system, a large number of surround sounds speakers, 20 personal wind machines, a LED projection of the teaser movie and specially designed rotating chairs. In terms of software the latest in computer modelling, rendering and animation software was used to create a world-class 360 degrees animation movie, together with a specially designed surround sound track and unique composed music. A special identity was created for 'Dare to Discover' including logos and motion graphics integrated in the entrance movie. It was a deliberate choice not to add personal interactivity to the ride. It is a social and minds-on experience that immerses all visitors together in the story. Using surround sound instead of headphones enhances the feeling of experiencing the story together.


The National Maritime Museum often gets the question: what was it like in the Amsterdam harbour in the 17th century? This led to a technological exploration of innovative presentation techniques to tell this story. VR has been chosen because it is a fantastic way to let people experience what it was like at the time. To create a realistic experience, original technical drawings and paintings have been studied from the VOC era; from the inside of the ships, textures, clothing to the actions of people. This has led to the huge amount of detail in the VR movie. Technical drawings from model builders were used. Sometimes that was not enough, so we worked with the curators of the museum and looked at paintings and studied documents to get as close as possible to the reality of that time. What did the wood look like? What filth was laying on the ground?

The challenge was to figure out how things were exactly done at that time, like the careening of a ship, burning it and covering it with tar. It was also important to analyze the movements of the characters. We wanted them to move as realistic as possible; from the people on the docks to those working on the ships. A new technique called motion capture was used. You record the movements of real people from different angles and then process these into a digitally moving character. We studied the movements of people at that time. We analyzed what people did at the docks, how ships were launched, etc. Headphones were skipped in this VR experience. Instead of each person experiencing this individually, we turned it into a social experience so you can still interact with the person next to you, pointing out things.

For the start of the experience we imagined how it should work out from the waiting line to entering the physical space. What do we want people to experience before they put on the VR glasses? The ship has been converted into a futuristic time capsule, equipped with 22 swivel chairs, creating an environment that inspires and intrigues. We chose for a futuristic look of the physical space, because we wanted to give visitors contrast, something unexpected and new. And then, as soon as you put on the VR glasses, you are back in time.


Early 2019, the Dare to Discover app will be launched. This enables people from all over the world to enjoy the experience. For the National Maritime Museum this will be a great opportunity to generate a lot of free publicity again.


Based on the formal visitor evaluation conducted by research agency Motivation (a sample of 440 visitors) from December 2017 - May 2018, the experience was rated with an 8,4. This is above the benchmark of temporary exhibitions of the museum and, compared to the permanent exhibitions, it is one of the most appreciated exhibitions. For 35% of the visitors the exhibition was the reason to visit the museum. The experience was rated highest by one of the primary target groups of the experience: families with children.

Visitor responses:

"The visual tour over the harbour was superb. A real experience!" - guest named Marbak 88

"The highlight of our visit was the virtual reality discovery tour that took you back to the 17th century." - guest named Sosofar

"We were there with our grandchildren. They found the VR-movie fantastic." - source Motivaction

Many visitors indicated that they wished the VR would last longer. Which also shows how well the 'Dare to Discover' has been received.


'Dare to Discover' has also been a critical success both in the arts, marketing and management media, as well as in national newspapers, on tv, regional radio and in blog posts of influential bloggers. The free publicity obtained before and just after the launch (from 14 December - 11 June 2018) had a reach of 7,2 million people. PR value: € 282.948. Dutch newspaper Het Parool called it "The six most spectacular minutes of the year". The tv broadcast of the Dutch morning show Koffietijd (Coffeetime) called it "Fantastic, really cool".