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Falcon's, NatGeo helps historic church land virtual visitors

Falcon's, NatGeo helps historic church land virtual visitors

Orlando Sentinel Story by Dewayne Bevil

A historic church in Jerusalem is showcased — brick by brick — in Washington, D.C., thanks partially to work completed by Falcon’s Creative Group.

The Orlando-based company was lead designer and digital media producer for the Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience at the National Geographic Museum. The exhibit, which opened this month, was a byproduct of National Geographic’s documentation of the 4th-century church’s restoration.

“They needed that kind of additional outside-the-box thinking to make it more immersive because it’s such an important subject matter,” said Cecil Magpuri, Falcon’s chief creative officer. “The tomb of Christ, it’s hard to get bigger than that.”

A major step in the process was capturing the building, inside and out, in 3-D.

“They literally scanned the outside plaza, where we start our journey, and captured every brick. Everything that you can see with your eye was able to be scanned digitally,” Magpuri said.

That massive amount of data was put into computers that replicated it in 3-D form. Then the Falcon’s team turned into filmmakers, deciding what digital path to take through the church. They also wrote the script for the presentation.

“Our focus was how important this site is to humanity,” Magpuri said. “Christianity starts at the inception of this location.” The film goes back in time to the time of the ascension.

“This church means so much to so many — not just from a religious standpoint, but from historical and political perspectives as well,” said Alan Parente, creative director of exhibitions and global experiences at National Geographic.

In the finished product, visitors stand before a 270-degree screen that goes below the level of their feet and up to the ceiling. The camera rises above the church.

“You literally feel like you’re flying through this amazing venue in Jerusalem,” Magpuri said.

“Typically, museum exhibits are filled with display cases and TV monitors, but we are producing an experience that will allow guests to feel like they are actually standing in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” said David Schaefer, Falcon’s Creative Group vice president.

The renovation project is featured in National Geographic magazine’s cover story in its December issue and is part of an episode of “Explorer” that airs Dec. 3 on National Geographic. The site has seen violent attacks, fires and earthquakes over the centuries.

The results of recent scientific tests appear to confirm that the remains of a limestone cave enshrined in the church are remnants of the tomb located by the ancient Romans, National Geographic revealed this week.

It’s Falcon’s second project with National Geographic this year. It worked on the CGI effects for the National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, which debuted in October in New York City. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre exhibit will remain in Washington through fall 2018.

“You have to be happy with confidence from National Geographic. What a brand that is,” Magpuri said.