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Roto reimagines visitor experience at National Museum of Military Vehicles

Puller Gallery tells the stories of Vietnam and Korean War service members

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Roto, a leading planning & design-build firm, has worked with the new $100 million National Museum of Military Vehicles (NMMV) to create a new immersive visitor experience.

The museum is home to the world’s largest private collection of military vehicles and tells the stories of the people who fought in them. Inside its new 40,000 square-foot Puller Gallery, Roto has reimagined the traditional military museum by immersing visitors in the stories of Vietnam and Korean War service members through dynamic, interactive experiences.

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Honouring the service & sacrifice

NMMV officially opened its doors on Memorial Day 2021 and is located in Dubois, Wyoming. The 140,000 square foot museum, founded by Dan Starks, the former CEO of St. Jude Medical, features 475 fully restored military vehicles, artillery pieces, naval vessels, and aircraft. Through these, it explores the American experience in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

For this project, the creative design agency set out to create exhibits that show visitors what it would have been like to serve with these vehicles, communicating not only their technical prowess but also the authentic personal stories of those who fought in them.

“Roto’s goal was to help the museum fulfil its mission of honouring the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families,” says Allen Boerger, founding partner and COO of Roto. “To bring this to life, we put the spotlight on personal stories, real objects, and recreating authentic environments. 

“The combination of these elements creates a fresh perspective and real a sense of immediacy. It’s history—but it’s also right here, right now.”

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The Puller Gallery takes its name from General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. It is home to a variety of immersive sets, media installations, themed lighting, projection mapping, and lifelike figures and interactives.

Upon entering, visitors are transported to a series of immersive, historical scenes, such as a nighttime jungle surrounded by bamboo shoots and a projection-mapped moonlit environment full of lurking booby traps and enemy forces. They will also encounter a U.S. Firebase where a faithfully restored M109 155mm Howitzer sits at the edge of enemy territory, with an animated mural showing distant battles and helicopter operations.

Meanwhile, The Battle of Chosin Reservoir is depicted as a frozen mountain that looms above visitors, showcasing a series of cast figures that reflect the emotion of this defeat.

Roto’s team approached each historical section in the Puller Gallery as an experiential ‘scene’, says Boerger:

“Our goal was to provide each visitor with an invitation to step into a historic story, whether walking through a dangerous nighttime jungle landscape or joining the arduous, windswept winter march of a convoy approaching the enemy. We want each person to experience a hint of what veterans did first-hand. And it’s so vital to get it right for veterans to ensure that their stories are told and displayed accurately.

“This means being laser-focused on every prop, every artefact, every detail, no matter what it takes.”

National Museum of Military Vehicles_theming and props_roto

An authentic experience

In order to create an authentic experience, the company also interviewed veterans and scoured hundreds of handwritten accounts. More than 300 props are used, most of which came from veterans, collectors, and surplus shops. These include ‘spike protective’ jungle boots, Psy-Ops air-dropped leaflets, and a 1960s Zenith television console.

In addition, Roto replicated some items that could not be sourced directly. For instance, a rare Chinese Communist grenade, a U.S. military trip flare, an air-deployed motion sensor, Agent Orange barrels, and over 100 ammunition crates.

“This is not meant to be a passive experience,” says Boerger. “It’s both exploratory and cinematic.  As visitors enter a new environment, we’ve created an ‘establishing shot’ that conveys the mood and overall story we’re telling. 

“From there, folks encounter these powerful stories at their own pace—zooming in on historic objects, these lovingly-restored tanks, and details in the personal narratives we tell through the museum.  It’s all based on their own interest and curiosity.”

Earlier this year, Roto collaborated with exhibit designer Studio Matthews and media designer Belle & Wissell on the redesign of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s legacy Take Flight exhibit. Roto completed fabrication and installation on the project.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is Features Editor at Blooloop. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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