Gallipoli: The scale of our war is an exhibition that is so much more than a static museum display: it is an immersive, profoundly moving experience that sees many people leave in tears.
The exhibition has brought history to life in a way that has never been done before in a museum context. Cinematic in scope, it shows a WWI campaign through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. It has smashed visitation records and satisfaction ratings. The statistics are no real surprise because this is an exhibition which raises the hair on the back of your neck, moves you to tears, and stays with you long after you have left.
Put simply, Gallipoli: The scale of our war is an exhibition experience like no other.
I have tears in my eyes as I leave the Gallipoli display. A deeply and profoundly moving experience. Thank you to all involved in this installation. I am lost for words.
The exhibition is a unique collaboration between the multi-Academy Award winners at Wētā Workshop, and the curators at the ground-breaking Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa). The teams set themselves the audacious goal of creating a deeply emotional and empathic experience of war in a museum context.
At the emotional heart of the exhibition lies a new form of artistic and thematic immersive sculptures: eight hyper-realistic figures crafted by Wētā Workshop. Each figure is captured frozen in a moment of time, on a monumental scale: 2.4 times human size.
As they move through the exhibition space, guests encounter these remarkable larger-than-life characters and their stories. Choosing to photograph and digitally scan living models rather than attempt to recreate photographs, Wētā Workshop’s artists and technicians spent more than 24,000 hours meticulously crafting the enormous sculptures. Every pore is painstakingly etched; each tear thoughtfully sculpted; thousands of hairs carefully punched by hand. Super-charged with emotion, and imbued with incredible attention to detail, the effect these works of art have had on guests has been profound.
The phenomenal oversize models really brought the whole thing to life. As I veteran I had real empathy and felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise on a number of occasions.
Gallipoli engages all the senses with a complete, and compelling, audiovisual experience. A linear trail leads guests through six self-contained chambers, each one theatrically lit. Walking through, guests encounter the sights, sounds and sensations of war. Wētā Workshop commissioned a young Wellington composer, Tane Upjohn-Beatson, to craft a bespoke cinematic soundscape that undulates throughout the space. Performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the haunting score is punctuated by gunfire and the shouts of soldiers, challenging guests to confront the horror and humanity of war.
Three-dimensional digital maps show how individual battles occurred, tracing the journey of the ANZAC soldiers as they attack and relent. Videos recreating life in the trenches play alongside quotes and letters; photos taken by soldiers on the front line; and the weapons used in combat.
The experience is tactile, too. Guests can crawl into a dugout and hear the letters an officer wrote to his wife, just days before he was killed, and peer inside Wētā Workshop’s scale models depicting scenes of conflict, heroism and heartbreak.
Gallipoli: The scale of our war has been likened to watching a 3D film. It is a fully immersive experience rivalling any drama told on screens in the darkened cinemas of the world. The impact on Te Papa museum itself has been immediate and powerful. Within one year, the exhibition welcomed more than 700,000 visitors through its space, exceeding all records. That year saw visitation to Te Papa increase by 20%, resulting in the biggest visitor numbers since the museum opened in 1998. The exhibition has now attracted more than 1.5 million visitors, in a country of only 4 million.
At the conclusion of the experience, guests are asked to write a message on a paper poppy and leave it at the feet of Wētā Workshop’s final sculpture. More than 500,000 have now been left in remembrance; a testament to the profound impression the exhibition has left on those who have experienced it.
It is the best exhibition I have been to and I can’t thank you enough. It is exactly what a war exhibit should be. Insightful, moving, informative, emotive. I came away with tears in my eyes. It was hauntingly beautiful.
In partnership with Te Papa museum, Wētā Workshop developed a five-part mini-documentary series focused on the development of this experience. This series formed part of the launch campaign for the experience and has been watched by millions over multiple platforms.