As lead agency for Dumont Media Group – one of Germany’s largest media companies, we developed a completely new type of immersive, permanent exhibition at the Port of Hamburg. One that uses innovative technologies to take visitors from all over the world, to those areas of the port they wouldn’t normally have access to. After just 9 months of agile project development, the Discovery Dock theme park opened to the general public at the heart of Hamburg’s Hafencity – right next to the Elbphilharmonie. Developing not just a forward thinking business model, but a unique live experience.
Learning through immersive storytelling
Together with countless partners from economics, politics and society; from scientists and environmentalists, to shipping experts; we developed our vision for the exhibition. One that uses the principles of edutainment – being both informative and entertaining – to emotionally engage visitors. For this, we had to use cutting edge interactive storytelling techniques that would create a cohesive narrative. This had to be tightly concepted, since each visitor session had a fixed time of fifty minutes.
Story design and prototyping
To find a storyline for the experience, we started with extensive research on the inner workings of the port. Developing the overarching theme “The unseen perspectives of Hamburg’s port”. Through content mapping around this thematic, a detailed storyline was then developed: one that had the ability to weave all these diverse and complex narratives together. From this, we were quickly able to define the different station ideas, prototyping technological solutions and working iteratively to realise our vision.
Holistic Experience Design and Brand Building
Through this, we developed the complete experience, brand, and visual identity for “Discovery Dock”. Our goal was to present a future vision, taking reference from the port’s industrial and container world. The scenography worked with container-like materials and structures.
Micro Amusement Park
For the detailed conception of the experience, we chose individual station installations that supported this creative roof and story. Ranging from an immersive audiovisual installation, to 4K projection mapping of real-time port data on a huge 3D port model. On seven further stations, groups could deepen their knowledge of industry, nature and business thanks to mixed and virtual reality experiences, and interactive installations.
Unseen perspectives with a centrally controlled experience
From a technical perspective, we had to develop a central infrastructure that would support, monitor and control the entire experience. The so-called hub. This hub is a local server system which enables live-communication to all stations including light, and audio and, triggers all experience events automatically in a designated order. Through this we made it possible for hundreds of visitors to go through the experience in a highly choreographed way.
An immersive deep-dive into the port
In the so-called "transition room", the experience begins. An audiovisual installation, choreographed over eight giant screens and a 3D audio dome, teases all the different facets of the port, and the six thematic areas covered in there main room Working like a teaser for the six content areas and interactive installations in the main room, the themes where presented. Ranging from nature and environment, over automation, to container turnover and customs, to ships and dockyards.
Interactive port model with real-time data
The heart of the experience: an interactive, augmented reality port model, brought to life with 4K projection mapping over three layers. Over 8 m², you can explore the inner workings of the port. The past 24 hours of real-time data for ships and tides appear in time-lapse. At any given time, up to 250.000 water particles are simulated on the GPU. Points of interest, specially printed in 3D, light up as you approach them thanks to infra-red motion sensors. And content blocks for the different areas of the port are revealed based on your position. This installation alone required over 100 metres of cabling.
Interactive customs check
Custom 3D printed, motion tracked torches make it possible for visitors to search for smuggled goods in almost life-sized original container X-rays from Hamburg Customs. These images – containing everything from drugs to stuffed animals, appeared hidden in projection-mapped containers. By scanning the surface with the torch, visitors have “X-ray vision” to find the goods themselves.
A mixed reality dock experience
By climbing onto a basket lift, visitors can navigate around one of the largest dry docks in Europe, where a ship is being repaired. For this, we created a custom cage, equipped with haptic controls and an amplified bass shaker. Through combining this with a detailed 3D replica in virtual reality, visitors literally feel the lift move as they traverse around dock and ship.
Weight-activated touch table
An interactive touch table, lets visitors find out more about the most common goods crossing the port. By placing one of eight 3D printed miniature containers onto a scale, up to 35 facts about the most common goods can be explored. In a very playful way: the real-life physics of each good were modelled so that they’d react precisely to the user’s touch as soon as the content was released.
Interactive digital aquarium
Visitors can go eye-to-eye with life under the surface of the river Elbe – reconstructed in 3D, built in Unreal Engine. Interacting with an animal world in real time: from porpoises that curiously follow you, to swarms of smelt fish that react to your presence thanks to infrared cameras, to a crab that snaps at your fingers when you tap on the glass. To make the animal textures as real as possible, we accurately referenced the real world – examining a living wool hand crab in a water environment to see how its textures behave.
Mixed-reality crane simulation
In a – by Exozet developed – mixed-reality crane simulation, visitors can sit in the sky and offload containers from a waiting ship. To make this as authentic as possible, a real container crane in Container Terminal Burchardkai was visited – the cockpit, workings and environment accurately modelled based on this original. A sensoric seat then responds to the crane drivers exact movements in real time, making the experience complete.
Immersive container terminal experience
In an interactive tunnel, visitors can send a container on a journey through the fully automated terminal. Following it on its path from a ship, over the container storage area to you. Each phase was specially designed to make the processes as tangible as possible – with the simple touch of the finger. A unique storytelling approach brought to life with 3D graphics, interactive light installations, and original terminal audio recordings.
Business model and potentials
The resulting overall experience is a new take on immersive exhibition design. Demonstrating not just the potential for new technologies to create a new world of “edutainment” storytelling. But their potential to unlock whole new future-thinking revenue streams for businesses. The experience can be visited near the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, and is open to the general public.
Our production partners
bauer + planer • The Marmalade / Jamsession • WeSound • Impuls-Design • Exozet