26 February 2024

Multimedia: In 4 minutes, from Venice to Jerusalem in the 15th Century!


Capturing the human and spiritual odyssey of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 15th century in just 4 minutes is the challenge undertaken by the Terra Sancta Museum, intent on linking the pilgrims of yesteryear with those of today while showcasing the friars’ mission of hospitality. Join us behind the scenes of the making of a multimedia feature, Act II.

We left off in our previous article at the National Library of France in Paris, in the company of Béatrix Saule, President of the Scientific Committee of the Terra Sancta Museum. She had managed to obtain high-definition images of the stunning colored engravings by the Dutch painter Reuwich, published in 1486 in the travel account of Breydenbach.

Reuwich’s Engraving Featured in Breydenbach’s Travel Narrative. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Reflecting momentarily on the museum layout, the Honorary General Curator of the Palace of Versailles explains: “We had to adapt to a very limited space where the visitor cannot sit down. This multimedia had to be short and speak to the widest audience: we chose to have no voice-over.”

Arianna Zovadelli, on behalf of the talented Italian team at Studio Base 2 – entrusted with the project’s realization – confirms: “We had to rely solely on the power of images while the subject is complex!” The team was already familiar with the Terra Sancta Museum having worked with Gabriele Allevi, the multimedia coordinator, within the museum of archaeology. “We have already created a multimedia on the archaeological excavations and the great Franciscan archaeologists and educational content for school audiences about the story of Jesus,” shares Arianna, responsible for Design and Production at Studio Base 2.

Shadow Play

She recalls her first encounter with the Scientific Committee. “With Gabriele Allevi, we were trying to tell the story of the pilgrims. Béatrix Saule then introduced us to the engravings from Breydenbach. We were immediately captivated; there was no question of distorting such magnificent works. They were almost self-sufficient!” But how then to make them tell a story, that of a 15th-century pilgrim?

Arianna Zovadelli, Gabriele Allevi, and Beatrix Saule at the Studio Base 2 workplace premises.

In another museum in Italy, Studio Base 2 had already faced a similar challenge. Their proposal, inspired by shadow theater dating back to ancient China, was met with great enthusiasm. Shadow theater involves projecting figures created by cut-out silhouettes onto a screen by placing them in the path of a light beam that illuminates the screen. “It has an impact but doesn’t overshadow the background; the contrast between the colored engravings and the Chinese shadows works wonderfully,” Arianna rejoices. And Béatrix Saule adds, “We found the process extremely interesting because it avoided any picturesque element. We couldn’t see the faces of the people, but the shadow play emphasized the action and the gestures. The narrative of the multimedia thus comes through this shadow.”

From storyboard to shooting

With the graphic concept set, the storyboard writing could begin. This step defines all the shots that will make up the multimedia, both technically (framing, movements) and artistically (sets, music, and sound effects). Video conferences and meetings in Crema, a small Lombard town where the headquarters of Studio Base 2 is located, punctuated these two years of collaboration. “It was a very long job with many back and forths. We clarified, amended, and revisited each scene. Four minutes may seem like nothing, but everything was looked at very precisely, down to the rhythm of the silhouettes, the scrolling of the engravings, the appropriateness of the gestures,” insists Béatrix Saule. Arianna illustrates: “The shadows describe a pilgrim who leaves from Venice and arrives in the Holy Land. He boards a ship, upon arrival he makes encounters. We had to specify, hand in hand with the museum team, which side the pilgrim should walk on, how he should be blessed, what hat and clothes he wears, etc… Although they are shadows, nothing was left to chance; everything was studied for historical accuracy.”

The shooting was then carried out against a “green screen.” The technique is well known: it involves a green fabric backdrop that allows isolating the main subject of the image to place it on another background during post-production. “On the day, we brought in the actors, brought the objects, found the most similar costumes… The Franciscans even lent us a habit to mimic the Custodian welcoming the pilgrim at Jaffa or washing his feet at the Cenacle!” shares Arianna with amusement.

Technique and music for an immersive experience

After the filming was completed, the museum team still needed to work on the immersive effect they wanted. “The shadow play provided movement but it wasn’t enough, so we used a parallax technique.” In practice, this involves moving different parts of the two-dimensional set. “We cut out all the panoramas from Breydenbach, some parts were brought forward, others pushed back. There was a tremendous effort to make these engravings ‘come to life’ and to highlight the desired elements,” reveals Arianna.

Visualization of the museum’s future multimedia space

She adds, “We also worked a lot on the sound because, at the request of the Terra Sancta Museum, the multimedia has to immerse the visitor in emotion. For this, we collaborated with a composer: Michele Lombardi. He conducted a study on 15th-century music and created an original soundscape to take us into a world that is not our own. It is very expressive music, it has particular accents, for example, a pirate attack at sea is accompanied by drums that come from afar and then get closer!”

Recording in Jerusalem of the chants used for the multimedia

And because the music had to “stick to the argument” – to use Béatrix Saule’s words – the museum team, in their zeal, insisted that the multimedia include real chants recorded in Jerusalem by real friars! A handful of students from the international seminary of the Custody of the Holy Land thus took “the microphone” and recorded in turn the Veni Creator, the Litany of Saints in Latin, the Te Deum, and even Aurora cælum purpurat. “We want today’s pilgrims to take ownership of this multimedia; to realize this long chain of pilgrimages from yesterday to today. Thus, at the end of the multimedia, when we mention our ‘hero’s’ participation in the Holy Sepulchre procession, the visitor will hear Aurora cæcum purpurat, the same chant that the friars have been singing for 800 years.”


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