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Scholtenhuis video experience

On april the 28th the flash project “Scholtenhuis” went officially live. The opening of the website was performed at a press conference in the Groningen Archives Building and was hosted by Gijs Wanders (former NOS news reporter).

The project book, DVD and website tell the story of the “Scholtenhuis”, which was the head office of the SD (“Sicherheits Dienst”) in World War II in Groningen, The Netherlands.

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Image: Press conference at Groningen Archives.

The project is based on archive materials from WOII and on interviews with surviving witnesses. These interviews were filmed and helped tremendously to virtually recreate the Scholtenhuis building.

The project itself started with recreating and rendering the entire building using 3D software. These environments were used as backdrops for live action sequences, filmed in an Amsterdam studio with the help of professional actors.

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Image: A scene is being filmed in a bluescreen environment.

A major decision was not to create a movie with a storyline, but instead to recreate the atmosphere of the Scholtenhuis. While virtually exploring the Scholtenhuis website, you get an impression of everyday activities, and of the people that worked there.

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Image: The scene is integrated into the 3D environment.

While all of the movie loops were being filmed, work on the website started. We wanted the interface to be as simple as possible, but at the same time provide access to the incredible amount of media, interviews, audio fragments and documents that are available for every scene.

This was accomplished by carefully designing the interface for the rooms. A room provides access to related interviews and media, and also to persons that worked in that room. When watching a person’s details, links to other rooms and media become available, and this way you can navigate throughout the entire Scholtenhuis.

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Image: Each scene contains its own links to interviews, persons and documents.

This way we were able to keep the main interface quite simple. Just by showing the floorplans of the building and the chain of command of the SD officers, you can reach every part of the website.

Technically, the main challenge was to build a system that allows navigating between many different kinds of media, using either the main interface, or through crosslinks that appear dynamically. There’s lots of interface elements, media players, and popup windows that influence the behavior of underlying parts of the site, and thorough testing was necessary to ensure a smooth user experience.

We were able to keep the site content continually up to date by building a database that contains all written text, documents, photography and links to all the interviews and movie loops. Apart from that, the database also shows the relationships between all this information. The flash website is able to build up the entire environment using this database information.

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Image: a custom CMS is used to link the many project elements together.

This way the development of the user interface and the development of the actual content could progress simultaneously, which has saved us a tremendous amount of time, and also enabled us to work separately.

The project has gotten a lot of media attention, being featured in newspapers, on the NOS website, radio 1, and RTV Noord.

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One thing that this website really proves is how a big project like this doesn’t necessarily need to be executed by a big media agency. Instead, all of the people who worked on this project are self-employed / freelancers.

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The main team consists of a filmmaker, writer, 3D artist, database specialist, graphic designer, and flash interaction designer, which is me :-). Apart from that there were actors, sound engineers, a bluescreen keying specialist, and many more.

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Visit the scholtenhuis website here!

To learn more about how this project came off the ground and how all the parts came together, please watch the “making of…” movie!

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UPDATE: the project is currently being featured on dutch design magazine Publish.nl.