Defence Of Darwin Experience

Akagi Aircraft Carrier

The Akagi aircraft carrier on its approach to Darwin, 19th February, 1942

Year: 2011
Clients: Defence of Darwin Experience Facility
Reel Pictures
The Pod

2011 was, without a doubt, the busiest year of my life so far as I completed my final honors year of Digital Media Design at Swinburne.
I was lucky enough to be contracted by Alf at Reel Pictures to work on content for the Defence of Darwin Experience, a new museum commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Japnaese bombing of Darwin. The entire ‘Darwin Experience’ museum is the work of many people & includes exhibits, war items, interactive tables and other multimedia equipment. I created some animated content for the interactive sections, but the main project I worked on during 2011 was the ‘Bombing of Darwin Experience‘.


The Bombing of Darwin Experience is an 11~ minute long animated retelling of the morning of February 19th, 1942. It uses 3D animation, light, sound with re-animated photos from the actual day in order to give an immersive depiction of the Japanese bombing of Darwin. The sequence is projected onto a 7 metre-wide screen with an aspect of 16:3 (super wide!)  & 5.1 surround sound.

The final animated sequence is now on display at the new Museum up in Darwin & while I am not allowed to share any footage of the actual Battle of Darwin animation, you can view a bit of footage here in an article by the NT News. Please note that the footage there is of low quality, and in a sense ‘squishing’ a 7metre wide animation into a small square box!

 The ‘Menace Sequence’

Most of my time was spent working on a 1 minute scene known as the ‘Menace Sequence.’ The menace sequence introduces the Japanese threat; over 60 bombers and fighter planes preparing for takeoff on one of the 4 aircraft carriers that sailed to Darwin. I’ve shared some low resolution still frames from the final animation below. Click on any of the images for an enlarged view.

Bombers and Fighters preparing for takeoff on the deck of the Akagi
Bombers and Fighters preparing for takeoff on the deck of the Akagi

One of the key fighter planes used in the Bombing of Darwin was the ‘Mitsubishi Zero.’ I spent a lot of time preparing a model of this plane for animation. This plane was featured a lot during the ‘Menace Sequence’ and so  it was required that it would hold up for many closeup shots.

Engine closeup of a Mitsubishi Zero
 Engine closeup of a Mitsubishi Zero
Overhead view of the Zero's cockpit during takeoff
Overhead view of the Zero’s cockpit during takeoff

I had a lot of fun working on the textures, Rig and animation of the Zero fighter. It’s a very beautiful plane! I found a heap of photo and video reference on the internet, and this was important in trying to get the plane to look more believable.


Mitsubishi Zero during takeoff
 Mitsubishi Zero during takeoff

The above still-frame is taken from the final shot in the Menace sequence and was easily the hardest shot to pull off. Here, the camera follows the nose of the Zero Fighter as it leaves the deck, raises the landing gear and heads for the sky. The main difficulty in this shot was the Ocean simulation, which was handled by Alf Kulhmann at Reel Pictures and is discussed in more detail below.

The deck and control tower of the Akagi
The deck and control tower of the Akagi

This was one of my favourite shots from the Menace Sequence, and one  I am really proud of when I see in motion. This shot is the first time the audience gets to really see the size of the ‘Akagi’ Aircraft Carrier and just how many dangerous planes are being carried on Deck. A full-resolution frame from this shot took over 90 minutes to render. This was actually quite efficient considering we were rendering motion blur ‘in-camera’ for this shot and the scene (including water) was made up of many millions of polygons!

Akagi - view from the Stern
Akagi – view from the Stern

I began working on the ‘Menace sequence’ when it existed only as a section title in the script. It was great fun to be able to work on this sequence as it grew from penciled storyboards to the final render-ready animation.

A Pilot's eye view of the Akagi
A Pilot’s eye view of the Akagi

I was contracted by Reel Pictures to help on this year-long project and Alf Kuhlmann worked primarily on the Ocean simulations & the environment.  The shot above was one of the hardest shots in the menace sequence because the camera revealed over 14km of Ocean as it panned up and looked to the horizon! Despite this, Alf was able to create a great ocean sim that rendered quickly and looked fantastic!

The Bombing Raid

Still from the bombing raid on Darwin
 Still from the bombing raid on Darwin

The main section of the ‘Bombing of Darwin Experience’ is a 3 minute long animation of the actual Japanese bombing. This section uses actual photos of Darwin and the Aftermath of the raid and brings them to life using Computer animation. After completing the ‘Menace Sequence’, I worked on a few shots from the bombing raid.

Strafing run on a Darwin main street
 Strafing run on a Darwin street

This was one of my favourite shots from the bombing sequence. In the final animation, you see a Zero fighter plane scream down one of the town’s main streets, tearing up the ground with it’s machine guns. The plane continues down the street, straight towards the camera and the machine gun fire almost continues on into the room: Lights in the actual exhibition space light up in time with the machine gun fire!

Still Renders of the Zero:

Mitsubishi Zero still render - by Michael Wentworth-Bell

Here area  couple of work in progress renders of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane before it was animated in the Menace sequence.

Mitsubishi Zero still render - by Michael Wentworth-Bell

I had a heap of fun working on this project and on this plane in particular.

Mitsubishi Zero still render - by Michael Wentworth-Bell

This was one of the biggest projects i’ve worked on so far, and definitely the one that i’ve had the most fun on! This page just scrapes the surface of the work that was put into this project, and I will be adding more images, photos and animation over the coming weeks!

I am very grateful to have been a small part of this production, not only because I got to play with WWII planes for 10~ months but because I was able to learn a bit more about Australia’s history. Before jumping on board with this project I had no idea Darwin had even been bombed even once! It was a lucky opportunity that I was able to spend many months learning about the horrors of WWII that were not even covered in School! I look forward to one day taking the trip up to Darwin to see the final Defence of Darwin experience!