Giving audiences a much-needed lift, AY-PE has designed and managed the delivery of A Christmas Spectacular on Kirkgate, a 35-minute immersive show featuring 10-metre high, 3D projection mapped animated characters, colourful kaleidoscopic scenes and dream-like sequences.

The show’s visual elements were accompanied by a bespoke musical composition, including sprinklings of the iconic Tchaikovsky Nutcracker score. AY-PE also developed several animations to replicate and tie in with curated items from the museum’s Christmas collection.

For yet more immersion, AY-PE collaborated with the museum to dress their historic street in oversized baubles, bold eye-catching characters, Christmas trees and snow, creating a jaw-dropping indoor ‘Narnia’ effect for visitors.

image credit to Charlotte Graham

Planning an upbeat immersive experience in a depressive pandemic

With Office for National Statistics research suggesting nearly one in five British adults has likely experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus lockdown, planning an immersive experience in the middle of a pandemic was not without its difficulties.

“This Christmas we have decided to transform our famous Victorian Street with a 35-minute experience like nothing else we have done before,” says Fiona Burton, public engagement manager at York Museums Trust.

“Visitors will be able to stroll through the snow-covered street, peek into the shops and watch beautiful projections adorn the walls as music plays.”

“We were in conversation with York Museums Trust in the summer, over Zoom, screensharing our concept, approach and ideas for a Christmas Spectacular, it was surreal! The sun shone down outside our home windows and we were talking about dancing mice, spinning ballerinas, Santa and snow,” recalls Simon Ackerley AY-PE’s managing director.

“We were still in lockdown 1.0 – our studio was closed, the team working remotely throughout the crisis and there we were, preparing ideas for a world outside of it all. It was a real challenge to plan for. Mentally you fight against wanting the world to carry on and be happy, against knowing that restrictions change on a week by week basis, more rules, tiers, with the goal always being to keep people safe.

Kirkgate mock-up

“The Trust were fantastic to work with, adapting to whatever restrictions were thrown in by the government. A practical positivity bonded us all together which was vital as lockdown 2.0 hit at the very same time that we needed to install and the Museum had wanted to open. Things felt on a knife-edge, but in any project we build in flexibility. You have to in the exhibition industry as things often go wrong outside of your control.”

Covid considerations

To manage Covid-19 risk, AY-PE incorporated several additional elements into their experience development, including:

  • Remote working, online sharing and weekly Zoom catch-ups with the Museum
  • Designing an AV show which correlates to the pulsed visitor flow, ensuring experience is maximised and potential to cross-over groups minimised
  • Wipeable print finishes on the touchable over-sized character cut-outs stood along the street
  • Projection visibility up the street to allow for social distance when watching the main show
  • Social distancing throughout install, sound balancing and visual testing

A modern experience in a Victorian world

As well as juggling Covid restrictions and a tight seasonal deadline, AY-PE had to develop an immersive experience which respected and protected Kirkgate’s curated objects, windows and shopfronts.

Calling on past experience working with UNESCO and Grade I listed heritage sites, AY-PE collaborated with the Museum’s project, curatorial and operations teams, as well as AY-PE’s chosen hardware company Fusion LX and sound designer WMP, to find the best placements for six speakers and three projectors.

Artificial snow drifts were tested with the Trust’s curatorial team and AY-PE’s chosen set-dresser Workhaus, with everyone careful to conserve the integrity of the aged assets of the street.

AY-PE had planned through variations of their 3D modelled, mock-upped street, the positions of hanging and standing giant baubles and characters, allowing for socially distanced group spacing up the street and protection of the nearby buildings and curated assets.


“In a location like Kirkgate where everything is heritage, it was a considerable yet ultimately enjoyable challenge to bring a modern immersive experience, into a preserved, restricted world. The solutions meant that we could safely deliver the spectacle which York Castle Museum required from us, whilst allowing the history and stories of Kirkgate to still be enjoyed and breathe,” notes AY-PE creative director Richard Playford.

Regional collaboration and creativity more important than ever

AY-PE designed the overall experience for York Castle Museum with the AV show and illustrated cut-outs being produced by its highly-skilled creative team. AY-PE also utilised an agile business model to bring in relevant experts to deliver the project to the highest standards.

Yorkshire-based companies WMP, Fusion LX and Workhaus are all highly regarded in the attractions industry and, due to location, were able to adapt their availability around the regularly altering Covid 19 restrictions.

Interested in working with AY-PE? Drop a line to [email protected] to chat with the team about your own inspirational digital project.


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