Breathing life and giving voice to a cultural icon

Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park

Interior of the Rosie the Riveter exhibition at the National Park Service showing historical displays of World War II factories

Scattered in various poses throughout the Visitor Education Center at the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park, the National Park Service has on display a collection of highly realistic, special effects figures known as Lifecast. They each have names but until recently, their diverse stories hadn’t been delved into in-depth or shared with the public.

Art Processors partnered with the Rosie the Riveter Trust to breathe life into these 12 life-like figures, creating inspiring audio recordings that allow each figure to tell the story of a moment in their life – from a Polish Rosie eating her lunch, to a Mexican musician, to a family doing laundry.

Display at the Rosie the Riveter exhibition for the National Park Service. Mannequins dressed in 1940s clothing stand in front of a 1940s streetscape

Challenge

The space is full of sound from other multimedia, including videos and interactive kiosks. The risk was that adding audio for these figures could be distracting or even seem chaotic for visitors. It was vital that engaging with each statue felt like a standalone moment with a person, but that, together, the audio became part of a bigger experience. We needed to find a way to make all the sound in the space form one cohesive, immersive, inspiring soundscape.

We also needed to use our technical audio expertise to improve existing sound recordings created for each of the figures. The voices were diverse and cast by a theater director, but were recorded by different people in different locations, so we needed to make them sound consistent and natural to the park location.

Display at the Rosie the Riveter exhibition for the National Park Service. Two mannequins dressed in 1940s clothing accompany photos and information about life during World War II

Approach

This project kicked off right at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to difficulty accessing design documents, floor plans, and assets that were stored on a server on site that had been shut down. So we got creative within our new constraints. We poured over floor plans. We organised video walkthroughs. We called the original exhibition designer, as well as the architect and site staff. In this way, we were able to envisage the challenges of the space and test different speaker set-up options from the safety of our own homes. Then, when the time was right, a safe site visit was organised where we could assess the sounds that already existed in the space and how these speaking figures would fit within the wider context.

Display at the Rosie the Riveter exhibition for the National Park Service. A mannequin dressed as Rosie the Riveter sits on a step in front of historic memorabilia

This was about increasing the value of the experience for visitors by really focusing on the stories of those individuals and drawing out the fact that contributions to the war were really multiracial, and socioeconomically diverse. These women were incredible pioneers, real heroes, and they had different perspectives and attitudes that the audio stories bring to life.

– Jason Reinier,
   Sound Designer, Art Processors


Solution

We stripped back each audio track so they felt consistent throughout the experience. Any background interference was reduced and everything was made to sound as natural as possible. We then added background sound effects that brought the stories to life – music, ambient sounds of riveting and welding, and street sounds. We paid special attention to how those sounds interacted with the already existing sounds in the space so there was no clashing with other background soundscapes. 

We added a new soundpoint for each figure so that it appears as if each one is speaking. The speakers are located in concealed areas and are directed to the best spot for visitor interaction.

Rather than setting up the audio to automatically trigger when a visitor is near a figure, visitors press a button. In this way, we created moments that people can truly engage in: they physically tune into that person’s story and know that they are speaking to them.

Mannequin dressed as Rosie the Riveter sits at factory installation at the Rosie the Riveter exhibition at the National Park Service. The exhibition gift shop can be seen in the background