360° Virtual Tour of The Painted Hall, Greenwich bringing remote visitors closer to Thornhill’s masterpiece

The Painted Hall is home to the finest painted interior in England. As part of their award-winning conservation and restoration project, The Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) invited ATS to help them bring James Thornhill’s epic painting closer to the viewers at home. As part of a dual project alongside creating the new on-site multimedia guide, an online solution would increase online engagement and on-site ticket sales.

ORNC wanted to extend the exposure generated by the once in a generation restoration project to reach new online audiences. ORNC appointed ATS to explore three main challenges:
• How to best showcase the wonders of the Painted Hall in an online format
• How to increase reach and engagement across social networks
• How to increase conversion to onsite visits & ticket sales

The project was commissioned prior to the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, which meant the timely launch of the website in April 2020 coincided with addressing the significant issue of how to engage with audiences when they are closed to the public.

Our Solution
The approach to designing a digital experience, as with any interpretive content or visitor experience, is that it has to have a purpose – simply putting 360 images of a space or building with no content or interpretation won’t provide impact or retain visitor interest, the solution had to include a variety of high quality bite-sized content that is easy to use and share.

As a capital project funded, in part by National Lottery Heritage Fund, it needed to be easily maintained and financially sustainable. From the outset we knew the solution had to be easy to access across all types of devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Developing a native app (an app downloaded from app stores) was disregarded early on due to cost barriers (of initial design / build, testing and ongoing hosting and updates required), plus from a user experience the added task for the visitor to download the app wasn’t desirable. ORNC were also having a new website built, therefore it was decided a micro-site integrated into the main website would be the best tool for the job.

As with a physical tour, we explored and tested the user experience, designing the interface, wayfinding and routing of a digital tour. We had to overcome the challenge of exploring both the ‘physical’ space and include detailed interpretation of the complex painted scenes of gods, monarchs, seafaring and complex allegory. Visitors must not get lost or they will leave the website prematurely.

The 360° explorable virtual tour of the Painted Hall allows visitors to view the paintings in ultra-high resolution detail, either following a suggested tour route or through a self-led journey of the Hall revealing the symbolism that is featured in the painted scheme.

The Painted Hall 360° Virtual Tour

Accessibility has been a high priority for ORNC throughout the whole restoration and reinterpretation project, the virtual tour includes audio description & narration, text transcripts and British Sign Language videos for deaf and hard of hearing visitors.

To create as much of an entertaining visit to the website as possible we developed a range of creative content including:
• 360° Virtual Tour environment, self-led & guided
• Website integration
• Wayfinding & User Experience design, including maps & hot spots
• Gigapan ultra-high-resolution photography to zoom into breath-taking detail
• 3D Binaural soundscapes that immerse the visitor
• British Sign Language videos
• Audio narration
• Audio transcripts
• Smartphone VR format embedded into the site

Reflecting on their experience of creating a virtual tour, Claire Kirk of the Old Royal Naval College is delighted with their tour of the famous Painted Hall:
“We are thrilled that, for the first time, people can get up close to this magnificent Baroque interior from the comfort of their own homes and from all over the world. Zooming in our Painted Hall ceiling in ultra-high-resolution reveals details you can’t see from the ground – fire breathing serpents, glistening jewels and bubble blowing cherubs. With this new tool everyone can appreciate not only the mastery of Thornhill’s brushwork but also the incredible quality of the conservation works recently carried out. It’s like a scaffolding tour but with your feet firmly on the ground!”

Try out: The Painted Hall 360° Virtual Tour.
Read more: ‘Virtually There – How to Create Effective 360° Virtual Tours