Transforming a storied vessel into a captivating journey

USS Midway Museum

Firefight: Every Second Counts; a room with several objects used in firefighting displayed around the perimeter; circular films on the walls depict the usage of these items; the room is lit in red

The USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, is a premier historical destination, attracting over one million visitors annually. Art Processors is proud to partner with this iconic institution to unveil the new “Midway’s Engineers: Service, Sacrifice and Everyday Life” exhibits. This 5,400-square-foot exhibition celebrates and illuminates the unsung heroes of the engineering department aboard aircraft carriers.

Art Processors designed the exhibits to allow the USS Midway itself to be the primary storyteller, with our work amplifying its rich history and the stories embedded within its steel. The exhibition is choreographed across nine thematic galleries, encouraging free exploration, sparking curiosity, and deepening visitors' understanding of the engineers' dual roles: they are not only essential maintainers of the ship's operations but also courageous first responders during fire emergencies—the most significant threat at sea.

Children standing in front of a three-wall projection depicting a shipboard fire experience

Human-forward, tactile & genuine

To create a captivating and multi-sensory experience, we employed first-person audio storytelling using the authentic voices of past engineers, allowing visitors to step into the shoes of the Midway crew. Through textured lighting and large-scale photography, motion-triggered audio and atmospheric soundscapes, motion graphics and interactive artefacts, the ship feels like a living and breathing organism that awakens and responds to visitors’ movements.

Entry Experience

Upon entering, visitors are instantly immersed in the USS Midway's operational essence, with ambient engine sounds and floor vibrations that mimic the carrier's constant activity. This immersive introduction sets the exploratory tone and bridges the past and present, drawing guests into the heart of naval history and engineering prowess.

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entry experience; uss midway

Steam: The Lifeblood of the Ship

Visitors explore how steam, generated by the ship's engineers, powered everything from electricity and propulsion to catapults for launching planes. A dynamic short film and infographics illustrate steam's multifaceted role, highlighting the ingenuity required to harness this power.

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large-scale wall infographic depicting how steam is harnessed to power an aircraft carrier
A mother and young child are looking down at a table displaying an oxygen mask used aboard the USS Midway

What is Engineering?

This gallery immerses visitors in the world of the Midway's engineering crew, centred around an interactive table where touching the artefacts triggers detailed stories of shipboard engineering. Items like the Engine Order Telegraph and Caliper Kit illustrate tasks ranging from communication to precision manufacturing, each enhancing understanding of the engineers' roles. This hands-on experience uses authentic tools and personal items, allowing guests to physically engage with the narratives of those who kept the ship running. Surrounding illuminated bunks showcase each engineering specialty, enriched with first-person testimonials and large-scale historic photos.

'Who is Engineering' gallery; a large interactive table at the center with 5 physical artifacts that can be activated to reveal animations on the table surface; the walls with bunks surrounding the table, large-scale images of engineers
A woman in a red jacket looks down at the interactive table displaying an oxygen mask with graphics below that say "did you know" and illustrate how this mask was used aboard the Midway
Children play in a group of bunks inside the USS Midway where the naval engineers once slept

Who is Engineering?

This gallery transports visitors into a meticulously recreated living space of the USS Midway's engineers, complete with motion-triggered bunks and lockers filled with uniforms, letters, and personal belongings. This gallery fosters a profoundly personal exploration of the sailors' lives, enhanced by audio stories that make it feel as though the ship itself is coming to life and sharing its most intimate stories with you.

A locker opened with a Naval engineer's jacket hanging and personal photos lining the inside door
An open locker reveals personal clothing items folded and stacked inside and letters and photos lining the inside door.
Fire! Fire! Fire! on the wall as you enter a room lit in red

Fire! Fire! Fire!

This three-part gallery is the emotional climax of the exhibition, where visitors face the reality of shipboard fires. Archival footage on a large backlit screen sets the historical context, while simulated alarms, pulsing red lights and dramatic projections thrust visitors into a high-stakes emergency scenario. The gallery's intense audiovisuals create a palpable sense of urgency and danger, reflecting the critical role of engineers as first responders.

The narrative deepens in "Firefight: Every Second Counts," where guests enter a hands-on training environment designed as an object theatre experience. Tactical firefighting systems and tools are spotlighted through dynamic three-sided projections and deep, immersive sound detailing the intricacies of naval firefighting. This space not only educates about the vital importance of preparedness and skill but also uses choreographed visuals and sound to celebrate the stories of bravery and readiness among the crew.

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Children holding an object used to put out shipboard fires; the room is lit in red, and graphics on the wall depict how these objects are used in fire scenarios

The journey culminates in the "Fire Experience,” which engulfs guests in the sensory overload of a shipboard fire scenario, using a combination of intense sound, light and visual effects to stimulate the harrowing conditions the sailors face. Life-size simulations provide gripping insight into the physical and emotional toll of such emergencies, making this sequence of galleries a coherent, escalating journey that underscores the significance of readiness, skill, and valour in naval firefighting.

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Children standing in front of a projection depicting a shipboard fire scenario

Saving the Ship

After the intensity of the Fire Experience, this reflective space allows visitors to ponder the historical and emotional impacts of shipboard fires. Soft lighting and translucent scrims display images and stories encouraging contemplation of past sacrifices and the crew's resilience. A moving tribute featuring ambient music and historical photographs creates a respectful atmosphere for reflecting on and celebrating the enduring spirit of the USS Midway crew.

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Saving the ship; a celebration and tribute to the USS Midway engineers

Impact

By embracing the ship as the primary storyteller and leveraging its exposed pipes, low ceilings, and compressed spaces as an architectural canvas, we infuse authenticity and emotional depth into the “Midway’s Engineers: Service, Sacrifice and Everyday Life” exhibits. This innovative approach transforms the ship's structural constraints into a vivid backdrop that brings history to life, making the exhibition not only informative but also profoundly moving. The experience serves as a powerful testament to the resilience and ingenuity that thrived aboard one of America's most storied vessels, capturing the magic of the Midway and honouring the spirit of those who served on it.

“Our main goal was for the ship itself to serve as the primary storytelling medium. We transformed the original bunks, lockers, pipes, and equipment into vessels that reveal stories through visitor interactions. Atmospheric lighting, audio, and projections combine to create a cinematic experience, vividly illustrating life and work aboard the Midway.”

- Julie Flechoux, Creative Director

 

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.