Roto Design Studio Brings Battle Theater to a Gallery Space

The term theater connotes a vision of live performers presenting to an audience, usually also live, experiences and events, real or imagined, to elicit specific emotions in them. Theater has a sense of place-making and world-building, which has been inherent in its conception since time immemorial. This is only fueled by cinema. Another definition of the term ‘theater’ which is not part of our everyday colloquial language, is the military definition of the word. Used to define an area in which significant military events occur or have occurred in the past. The duality of use is obvious. While one involves a staged leisure activity for live viewers, the other is a scene that sees a large amount of violence and trauma that is often hidden in plain sight. However, war re-enactments and cinematic reproductions have added a filter through which we now see the theater of war, as stories of addiction or serving a greater purpose for all of humanity.




Tank installation view Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


An interactive and multi-sensory installation of military vehicles elaborates the two versions of the “theatre”. Bringing to life the stories not only of the people who fought in the wars, but also of the machines themselves. Housed within the National Museum of Military Vehicles (NMMV), Wyoming, USA, is one of the world’s largest private collections of American military vehicles. A total of 475 fully restored military vehicles, artillery pieces, warships and aircraft from different eras of American history are part of the facilities.



Artificial landscapes and vehicle |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
Artificial landscapes and vehicle Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


The installation was conceptualized and produced by Roto, an interdisciplinary creative design practice known for its ability to plan, design and build immersive experiences for museums, brands and conceptualize the creation of architectural places. Located in NMMV’s Puller Gallery, the exhibits feature fully immersive design, media installations, themed lighting design, projection mapping, lifelike figures, and interactive activities. According to Allen Boerger, founding partner and chief operating officer of Roto, the studio approached each historical section of the gallery as an experiential stage stating, “It’s not meant to be a passive experience. It’s both exploratory and cinematic.”



Installation view of many tanks |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
Installation view of many tanks Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


Rather than simply showcasing the technical capabilities and size of the vehicles, Roto set out to immerse visitors in a theatrical experience intended to replicate historic military engagements. Boerger commented on the studio’s concept, saying, “To bring this to life, we emphasize personal stories, real objects, and recreate authentic environments. Combining these elements creates a new perspective and a real sense of immediacy. That’s history, but it’s also here, right now. There’s something to be said about nurturing memories through active participation, it’s almost as if, by interacting with installations, the activity of the war continued to be staged.



Accessories, which number more than 300 items, are sourced directly from veterans, collectors and surplus stores |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
Accessories, which number more than 300 items, are sourced directly from veterans, collectors and surplus stores Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


Roto and the NMMV team bring the theater to the gallery by creating winding pathways through a nocturnal jungle scene. These man-made landscapes are enhanced by the presence of thousands of hand-carved bamboo shoots combined with a moonlit environment crafted by map projection to create a setting that mimics historical records. In another section of the facility, an American firing base with a restored M109 155mm howitzer comes to life through an animated mural mimicking distant battles and helicopter action.



Installation view of a restored helicopter |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
Installation view of a restored helicopter Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


Roto gathered anecdotal information from American veterans through interviews. Linking factual data and everyday memories is a key aspect of installations. One particular installation sees three lifelike figures take cover behind an M48A3 Patton tank as they call for an airstrike. A Chosin Reservoir vehicle engine crackles and an authentic diesel generator flickers the lights of the Firebase structure, the team’s research even led to ascertaining that the Huey helicopter’s machine gun, which often jammed, was modified with an authentic meal ration fishing box to help the ammo belt feed the gun more smoothly.



Installation view of an infantry command post |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
Installation view of an infantry command post Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


Boerger continued, “We want every person to experience what veterans have done first hand. And getting it right for veterans is so vital to ensuring their stories are told and displayed accurately. That means being laser-focused on every prop, every artifact, every detail, whatever it takes. The accessories, which number more than 300 items, come directly from veterans, collectors and surplus stores. The display is a testament to the reverence and veneration often bestowed upon the United States military by its citizens.



The exhibition also illustrates the consequence of the various wars |  National Military Vehicle Museum - Puller Gallery |  rotary |  STIRworld
The exhibition also illustrates the consequences of the various wars Image: Courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography


project details

Last name: National Museum of Military Vehicles

Location: Wyoming, United States

Year of completion: 2021

Conception and conception and realization of the exhibition: rotary

Lighting: Light Switch Theming: Brilliant Creative Crafting

The figures: life formations

Joseph E. Golightly