Back into the Ice 100 years later

The Fram Museum in Oslo has been one of the most popular museums in Norway since it opened in 1936. The museum is dedicated to the exploration of the Polar Regions. The main attractions in the museum are the original ships Fram and Gjøa. Fram – the specially designed polar exploration vessel built in 1892 ship took Fridtjof Nansen farthest north in 1883–96, explored 200.000 square kilometers of unknown land in Arctic Canada 1898–1902, and brought Roald Amundsen to Antarctica for the Race to the South Pole in 1910¬–12. Gjøa – the traditional Norwegian sloop built in 1872 and rebuilt by Roald Amundsen in 1901 to become the first ship through the Northwest Passage 1903–06.

While the museums has gone through full restoration and modernization, and added a new building in 2013, the highlight for the visitors has always been the possibility of going onboard Fram to see the facilities where the explorers lived and worked during their many years frozen in the ice. The facilities onboard have for the last 80 years been fairly simple, with a couple of historical artifacts on exhibit in the crewmembers’ cabins.

In 2016 we started the detailed planning process of making the entire Fram expedition ready and to create an immersive experience for the public. This would involve fitting out the ship as she was during her expeditions, but also allow the visitors to FEEL part of the expeditions. Not only inside of the ship, but also on deck, looking out, in all directions.

The Polar Regions are spectacular. The moving pack ice, icebergs, the midnight sun, the complete darkness in winter, the northern lights, the isolation from civilization, the spectacular horizon, the polar bears.

It has been a dream of ours for more than 10 years to show our visitors a glimpse of these, while standing on deck of Fram. Showing them what the polar explorers experienced, when they stood on the exact same deck planks more than 100 years ago. Originally we discussed to have 100 42-inch television monitors mounted together on our wall/ceiling. Finding this to be less spectacular than what we wanted, we kept following the development of LED-walls. As these currently are too heavy for our A-frame building’s construction, we jumped into action when the development LED-projectors reached new standards and acceptable prices.

After discussing with our technical supplier, Sarner International Ltd, we ended up describing an 18K, 10 LED projectors show, to be shown on the inside walls/ceiling of our building, on the sides and the front of the polarship Fram, viewable from the ship’s deck. The film should last for 15 minutes, be shown on continuous rotation throughout the museum’s opening hours, and include realistic scenes from the Polar Regions.

It was decided to show 11 minutes of Fram frozen in the ice during her drift across the Arctic Sea 1893–96. This should include midnight sun, northern lights, the darkness of the winter night, sledging expeditions coming and going, passing polar bears, other wildlife, science on the ice, calm and quiet weather, storms and snowdrift, the windmill onboard in action, etc. The next two minutes of the show should be of Fram on its way to Antarctica in 1910, experiencing a full storm when sailing through the roaring forties. In the final two minutes of the show, the storm calms down and we´re meeting the first icebergs and sail through the pack ice into the Ross Sea. The last two scenes should be made to influence the visitors to feel that the deck they are standing on is actually moving, as it would have if the ship was back at sea.

While the first drafts of the show were in production, we planned for making the ship expedition ready, ie fitting her out as she was during her famous expeditions. All the crewmembers’ cabins, the galley, the workshop, the toilet, the engine room and the storage spaces were dressed with stores, clothing, food stuffs, expedition equipment and personal items. Look-a-like figures, sound effects and smell were included. The latter have become an important part of the experience onboard. The scary sound of the ice pressure on the hull, excitement coming from a polar bear attack on deck, the crew celebrating Christmas in the main saloon, vibrations and the sound of the engine in the engine room, etc. Passing the galley you can smell freshly made pancakes, while the smell of diesel will follow you throughout the engine room. In addition, a number of hands-on activities and shorter descriptive films and original footage from the expeditions have been included in the visitor’s tour through the entire ship.

The final show is the result of a continuous dialogue between the client and the artistic, technical and sound professionals. For the client it has been essential that every single detail of the animation and the sound were correct. The movement of the polar bears, the sound of 100 dogs on deck during the violent storm, the flag and the sails in all conditions, the texture of the ice, the background for the scenes, etc. This process was secured with frequent drafts of the film sent to the client, several visits for technical and artistic staff to show and discuss the drafts in full size on site, a number of sound samples sent to the client, while the client made historical photos available as reference materials.

Ten days before the premiere a full version of the film was shown on site. Based on this, the sound was edited to fit the venue, and final corrections were made to some of the scenes. The days before the premiere, the sound of the show was slightly edited and the projectors, speakers and other hardware were fine-tuned. The final version of the film covers an area of 425 square meters (82 meters - 270 ft - wide and 5,2 meters - 17 ft - high).

The reactions from the audience have been tremendous. To experience such a high level experience has come as a complete surprise to our visitors. Seldom have we seen such a large percentage of our visitors filming and taking selfies in our museum. The visitor numbers started to increase almost instantly after the opening.

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