Days in Conflict
Days in Conflict is a series of six interactive documentaries, presented as apps for tablet computers. Each tells a significant aspect of Australia’s wartime record during World War One. The project was undertaken between 2014 - 2018, created on behalf of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (funding partner) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (publishing partner). Taken as a series, it presents hours of engaging and immersive interactive and passive viewing content, allowing the user to work through the analysis of historical events at their own pace.
The amount of content consolidated in one place is formidable, and caters for a tiered approach to interest, from overview chapters right down to descriptions of hundreds of battle events, attenuated by content assets from diaries to 3D models that help build context to the stories and experiences being told.
Aimed at both education and general interest markets, with particular focus on secondary and undergraduate education markets, the apps are freely available worldwide.
I pitched this project whilst still at the ABC, but began it having left the organisation after nearly thirteen years. It’s rare to be funded to produce a long-term education series that is presented as complex interactive narratives. The end result, supported by teacher’s guides produced by the History Teachers Association of Victoria, provides an evergreen digital history in key aspects of Australia’s involvement in WW1, fairly uniquely emphasising the factual research of battles and thematic aspects of the war, employing a temporal-spatial story technique developed in a previous documentary project I directed and co-produced, and which won the inaugural Australian Film Institute Award for Screen Innovation.
The series is narrated by Lucy Bell, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh and capturing their performances was one of the highlights of the series - a welcome relief from the more unforgiving development tasks such as plotting 3D camera tracks, and painstakingly spatially mapping the events of battles!
Six Apps spanning the years of war
Gallipoli: the first day
For Australian and New Zealand soldiers involved in the largest amphibious landing since classical times, the events of the 25 April 1915 would establish the nature of a campaign that eventuate in failure and withdrawal nine months later.
This episode in the series focuses on the Australian and New Zealand landings at Z Beach, later known as Anzac Cove, as well as the Ottoman response to the invasion of their home land. This first app in the series was a remastering of the AFI award-winning interactive documentary I directed at the ABC in 2009.
Battle of Beersheba
This day-long battle began General Allenby’s Southern Palestine Campaign, and kick-started a stalled Allied advance in Palestine and the Sinai, leading directly to the cessation of war in the Middle Eastern Theatre exactly a year later.
Featuring a fabled charge of Australian Light Horse mounted troopers, the British, Australian and New Zealand forces fought to secure the eastern end of the Ottoman front line, subsequently roling it up to Gaza on the coast days later before advancing through the harsh conditions of Palestine and the Negev Desert.
Battles of Fromelles & Pozières
These two battles were Anzac soldier’s first taste of war on the Western Front, occurring in the first half of 1916. Fromelles was to an extent a feint in support of the mighty Somme Offensive which began roughly ten days later.
In both battles, Australia and New Zealand incurred high casualty rates whilst experiencing a new level of intensity in the fight against a well-entrenched enemy. Throughout the war on the Western Front, Allied forces fought offensive battles against the German Army’s defensive positions. The roles of artillery, trench warfare and urban fighting are all explored in detail in this second app.
War tends to have a gendered character that frequently excludes the important and extraordinary stories of women’s experiences in wartime. With this app, we took a consciously international approach to show how women all over the world mobilised in different ways.
Australian and New Zealand women were no less extraordinary in the efforts and experiences than their counterparts around the world. Whilst some ventured overseas as nurses and doctors, others supported the war effort, as well as the victims of the conflict from home, and awaited news of their sons and husbands.
Battle of Third Ypres
Including one of the most infamous battles of WW1, Passchendaele, this app explores the major Allied offensive of 1917 from an Australian perspective, as Australian officers begin to emerge as key strategists and architects in bringing the war to an end in Europe the following year.
The role of tanks and weather, pillboxes and the extraordinary events of 1917 that surrounded and informed the offensive are examined, alongside the battles themselves, beginning with Pilckem Ridge and ending far from its original ambition at Passchendaele.
The Home Front
Concluding the series, this app examines the transformation of a fledgling nation during the war years and the difficulties of returning from war experienced by many veterans, their families and social networks. At the same time the country’s economy suffered substantially from its commitment to total war.
Indigenous Australian soldiers, returned to find their temporary fraternity with fellow soldiers wiped away by a return to the status of second class citizens. More than a hundred years on, the app reflects on the powerful impact of war on Australian identity.
images from series dioramas
One of the great pleasures of the project was recording the audio for the series, and doing so with exceptionally talented actors: breathing life into the diaries, reflections and poetry of the times, and designing the main narratives and dioramas. I asked celebrated Australian actors Lucy Bell, Richard Roxuburgh and Hugo Weaving, and their performances breathe life into ephemeral, piercing accounts of war. Below are featured a choice few.
The most unique and innovative aspect of the series is the substantial effort taken to recreate the events of battles. How these signature events in wartime history unfolded, the where and when are explored through interactive, touch-enabled 3D maps.
The process of creating these begins with breaking down the battle into a series of events, derived from the historical record, and reaching back into battlallion diaries, and reports in the immediate aftermath, as well as official maps and intelligence used to plan the actual battles. Working carefully with academic historians from the Australian War Memorial, Macquarie University and the Australian Army History Unit to pin down events and then build a narrative allowed us to map these events on an animated battlefield that allows for a user two-fold exploration of the content: a lean back, chapterised narrative, as shown below, and a user-led, in-depth examination of events, supported by diaries, profiles, models and other media that help build a deep context to the battle.
I collaborated with a small group of developers/producers/designers at Soap Creative to translate the original 3D mapping space developed in Adobe Air and Flash for the original web-deployed version of the project. It was an iterative process, allowing for enhancements in the engine as we went through the series.
From writing and recording narration, to manually plotting 3D cameras, and animating battle sequences of front lines, progression, explosions, to generating skyboxes and ground textures, and filling data sheets, I had a very hands on experience throughout the series.
The reviews quoted below are taken from iOS and Android App Stores.
Gallipoli: the first day
”This is an app I have been waiting for, it is interesting learning about new things in world war 1 and great fro people that are descendants of people that went to war like me! THX”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Beautifully Told“
”I’ve gone through the website version of this and loved it. It was pretty much like watching a tv show that you could interact with. It also really gives you an idea of what happened that day and why it happened.”
Battles of Fromelles and Pozières
”As an amateur historian, I found this app to be a great help in understanding the western front of 1916. Everyone involved in bringing this excellent app are to be commended. I only wish that more such historical tools were available. This brings history to life. Thank You all.”
”how education in XXI century gonna looks like? Here it is at its best.”
”You learn so much from this app! it’s not just a overview of the battlefields but it shows you the hardware, tactics and bravery of our Army’s on both sides. I never thought that this app had all this when I first got it and now I spend my time reaching the highest rank.”
Battles of Third Ypres
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Totally brilliant“
”This is so well put together. Sat down with my 2 boys and some 50 minutes went by without noticing. We were engrossed in it. Such good content and really well put together.”
”A truly excellent exploration of the 3rd battle of Ypres.”
Battle of Beersheba
”App is amazing. Lets you discover all the major events and hardware of the factions in the battle. And a quick message. No it's not a game you idiots. Don't download this thing and then get mad that you downloaded this just to get disappointed.”