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How do you turn a well-known historical event into a 3D motion ride? Bob Gwynne, Associate Curator at the National Railway Museum explains more.

How do you turn a well-known historical event into a 3D motion ride? Bob Gwynne, Associate Curator at the National Railway Museum explains more. 

On 3 July 1938, the A4 class locomotive Mallard raced down Stoke Bank at 126mph to set a new world speed record. Mallard is the world’s fastest steam locomotive, an icon of the National Railway Museum and a symbol of 1930’s Britain when speed records made headlines. It’s record-breaking run is surely an exciting subject for a 3D motion film and interesting for those who know nothing about the story to those who wished they’d been there.

Mallard's record-breaking crew. Credit © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Mallard’s record-breaking crew. Credit © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Plenty is known about the Mallard run. The National Railway Museum holds lots of pictures of Mallard as well as pictures of the crew, Driver Joe Duddington in his trademark flat cap, Fireman Tommy Bray grinning with his bulging arm muscles and Inspector Sam Jenkins with his piercing look. We therefore had plenty of information to make a motion ride experience full and enjoyable, and after all if 15th Century Venice can be modelled for a computer game why not the east coast main line in the 1930’s?

A scene from the Mallard 3D Experience. Credit: Metropolis entertainment
A scene from the Mallard 3D Experience. Credit: Metropolis entertainment

Whilst the landscape, tunnels and bridges have not changed (much), the stations on the route of the record run have mostly disappeared, as have the signals. The track layout has also been altered. Finding a picture of Little Bytham station of the right period swiftly turned into finding any picture of Little Bytham that was good enough to model what the driver saw when Mallard broke the world speed record.

Exactly what did the bridges and tunnels look like? A need for good photographs of the route was crucial and initial searches of the National Railway Museum’s massive database of images provided very little. Fortunately the Search Engine research centre at the National Railway Museum is the best resource for studying railway history, and if there wasn’t an image in the database, there were good reference images in books and articles about the route.

One other issue was Mallard itself. Nigel Gresley, the locomotive’s architect, designed Mallard and his A4 Pacifics so that they ran smoothly at high-speed – they were no roller coaster ride. In fact A4’s were so smooth running that they were retro fitted under the fireman’s seat with a form of speedometer that provided a paper trace of each journey. This spy in the cab was so that Driver’s could be warned about parts of the route where they had been speeding when they got back to the shed. This would make for a boring and not very bumpy motion ride, so to compensate the film developers went for a fly-through the locomotive at speed and filmed scenes from outside the locomotive to add interest for the audience.

So from careful research, Mallard’s record run was re-created in an animated 3D film. The landscape, stations, locomotive and crew all get their moment of fame.

Experience Mallard 3D at the Science Museum in London or at the National Railway Museum in York.