PHOTOS/GREAT WAR EXPERIENCE

STEVE RENDLE
steve.rendle@age.co.nz

The easiest way to make something look like it’s been shot by a machine-gun . . . is to shoot it with a machine-gun.

That’s some of the first-hand experience Carterton’s Dan King gained during 18 months as project manager and art director on the Quinn’s Post Trench Experience, the brainchild of Sir Peter Jackson.

The trench experience, part of the Great War Exhibition in Wellington’s Dominion Building, is literally that – designed to give visitors a feel, and smell, of what life would have been like in 1915 at one of the most and dangerous sites during the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

Quinn’s Post was the closest point to the Turkish line during the campaign and was of vital strategic importance.

Had it been lost, it would have given the Turks a wide field of fire down on to the Allied positions.

Dan King in the Quinn’s Post trench.

The Experience combines special effects dating back to the Victorian age with the latest technology and minutely-detailed sets.

“The idea was to make this the closest thing to being there,” Dan said.

The machine-gun was required when it came to producing a realistic representation of conditions outside of the trench.

“When it comes to showing what a machine-gun bullet hole looks like, you can spend a lot of time with a chisel and paint getting it right, or you can just take things out and shoot them with a machine-gun.

“So, we did that – and we needed to make sure they were shot with the right gun, and the right calibre.”

All the shooting was, of course, done under approved circumstances.

The exhibition is built in former cinema space, which allows participants to walk up and down through 65m of trench pathways.

Weight restrictions for the building meant everything going into the room had to be weighed – including wet plaster, with further calculations to work out the weight of water that would evaporate when it dried.

Sir Peter hand-made the original model for the experience and took a hands-on role during construction work.

“He was there making the stuff himself, and he is really clever at it,” Dan said.

The Quinn’s Post Trench Experience.

“You forget that he actually comes from this stuff.”

Sir Peter’s attention to detail included ensuring the right type of pick axe was used to create the right type of marks in the right type of earth – carefully chosen to match the Gallipoli area. These samples were then used to make moulds for the trench walls.

“The thing that was important to Peter was to make it as correct as possible – down to how many dovetail joints there were in the ammunition boxes, and the way bullet holes in the sand bags looked.”

The installation includes 32 large screens, used to create interactive ‘ghosts’ in the trench.

“My job was to make it fit in the room and work . . . and make it safe for the public in an environment that didn’t have health and safety originally.

“We had to make it comply with requirements as well as being accurate to the time. We tried to use technology to go as far as we could.”

Reactions from visitors leaving the trench are testament to its effectiveness.

“It’s not a rollercoaster ride at a theme park. It really puts you there.

“When people walk out they almost seem a bit puzzled – they are standing there going ‘wow’. It’s like they are still processing what it’s been like.”

Having completed the project, Dan reflected on a fairly intense 18 months, making his current house renovation seem a relatively relaxed activity.

“It was a difficult, difficult thing to do – but it was a cool thing to do, it was exciting, and a bit scary.”

The Quinn’s Post Experience is an addition to the Great War Exhibition in Wellington’s Dominion Museum building, next to the Pukeahu National War Memorial park.

It is open daily from 9am-6pm, and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children, $50 for a family [two adults, two children]. Online bookings
are recommended.

Separate admission charges apply to the general admission to the Great War Exhibition – $15 for adults, children [under 16] free.