A VR experience film created by Immersive VR Education, an Irish virtual/augmented reality software outfit, run by Sandra & David Whelan, has won the award for the best Interactive experience at the Royal Television Society (RTS) Northern Ireland Programme Awards 2018, which took place on Thursday night at the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) in Belfast.

The wife-husband team attended the ceremony, along with colleagues from the BBC team, and were presented with the award at a star-studded bash – beating stiff competition from 360 Productions, who were the other finalists shortlisted in the category.

The RTS Programme Awards span all the genres of television programming, recognising exceptional actors, presenters, writers and production teams as well as the programmes themselves. The RTS Awards seek to recognise programmes which have made a material and positive contribution to their genre.

In February of this year, the Waterford-based company won a commission from the BBC Northern Ireland’s ‘Rewind’ archive innovation team, in conjunction with the BBC’s central VR Hub, to work on the creation.

“1943: Berlin Blitz” puts viewers in the shoes of BBC war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and allows them to retrace his journey on a genuine bombing raid to Berlin at the height of the Second World War. The creation takes the viewer into the belly of a Lancaster bomber high over Berlin, with anti-aircraft shells bursting all around, while Wynford’s dramatic commentary vividly captures both the danger and the excitement of the bombing raid.

Speaking of the win David Whelan, CEO & Co-founder of Immersive VR Education,
“Winning this award has taken us to another level in terms of what our company has achieved to date. Looking out from the stage last night at some of the biggest names in the TV and broadcasting industry was surreal, and to know that we were up there because of something we developed from scratch was tremendously gratifying and, in all honesty, quite emotional”.

David also spoke about the work undertaken by the Immersive VR Team to bring the Berlin Blitz experience to life,

“From inception to creation, the project took six of the company’s 34-person team four months in total to build!

The beginning project has been hugely exciting for us & working with the BBC VR Hub was a fantastic experience. Initiatives like this really allow us to move forward on the primary goal of the company, which is to bring immersive VR technology to distance learning and to transform how people all over the world learn and experience events both past and present”.

Sandra Whelan, COO & co-founder of Immersive VR Education, described the process,
“To create the experience, the team gathered hundreds of photographs of Lancaster bombers and all of the original mission data in order to recreate the historic event. We pretty much recreated the mission with everything being historically accurate, right down to the smouldering Berlin landscape below.”

Immersive VR Education used BBC Archive footage of the original radio broadcast of Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’ report that went out over the airwaves on 4 September 1943, just a few hours after the Lancaster Bomber plane landed back at RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire.

The Lancaster was the most successful heavy bomber employed by the RAF in World War Two and, along with the Spitfire, became something of a British icon in the wake of the war. More than 7,000 of the planes were built, flying upwards of 150,000 sorties.

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