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Experiencing Bannockburn

Not far from the famous battlefield, stunning 3-D technology engages wide-eyed visitors
in the spirit, sights and sounds of medieval combat.

BY KEITH AITKEN

I canít speak for everyone, but the moment that began to dispel my personal skepticism about Battle of Bannockburn came when the first flight of glinting arrows hissed out of the crossbows five feet in front of me, tore through my body and thudded into the wall behind me. As first impressions go, being shot in the chest by a company of archers certainly captures the attention.

Battle of Bannockburn is a £9.1-million visitor "Experience," which opened last year to commemorate Scotlandís most renowned military victory. So, why the skepticism? Well, because a museum that conveys its learning via 3-D gadgetry, pawky holograms and hi-tech war games is always liable to be suspected by ageing traditionalists like me of dumbing down to appease a digital dork generation that doesnít do books. Thatís not wholly wrong in Bannockburnís case, though the absence of real archaeology to put on show does provide reasonable mitigation. And because the appearance of that word Experience in marketing materials is usually a reliable guide to where the balance has been struck between entertainment and information.

But here it needs to be set against the plain truth that what Battle of Bannockburn does, it does extremely well, and with a serious regard to historical authenticity. Sure, it is the first visitor attraction in the world to couple immersive 3-D technology with motion capture, the technique used to create Gollum in the Lord of the Rings cinema trilogy, which marries computer-generated imagery with real human movement -- in this case, provided by the Clanranald Trust, a Scottish battle re-enactment group who often supply moviemakers with bellicose hordes. But it is also careful of detail and fact. The end product is realistic and consistently startling, from the cavalry charging at you to the individual hologram figures that explain their personal roles on a one-to-one basis.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photo © National Trust for Scotland