Virtual Reality Project Example

In the spring of 2019, we designed, built, and implemented a virtual reality system of the inside of a coal mine circa 1950 for the Canmore Museum, entitled "Inside the Mine, a virtual reality experience".
The mines in Canmore had been closed 40 years previously and all of the old tunnels - though there are many, many kilometres of them - were all collapsed, flooded, or too unstable for tours. Thus, it was felt to be a perfect project for Virtual Reality.


Eight other studios across North America bid on the contract. Otago Computing was successful because we:

  • proposed within budget,
  • aimed for an aggressive three-month delivery which coincided with an important anniversary for the museum (40th year since the mine closure),
  • were able to draw upon extensive knowledge of the subject,
  • displayed rough concept work to give an idea of what we could do,
  • presented detailed progress and payment schedules and a complete budget, and
  • guaranteed our work (if the client is not happy, we rework within budget or do not accept payment).

Once the contract was won, we cleared the decks to deliver a full VR system in just three months!


Several concepts were tried, with each an improvement on the previous, as we built toward these criteria:

  • There should be no start and stop, so that we do not need to have a complex interface and reset the mine tour for each user. Instead, we will create an endless loop so that people can enter and exit as they wish, with no delay. The acid-test for this would be to serve a group of high-school kids (10-20) all passing the headset around.
  • The experience should run with as minimal staff presence and assistance as possible. Preferably none.
  • The controls should be simple and intuitive so that no instruction is necessary before starting.
  • The application needs to run all day, every day, without memory issues or need for restarting.
  • As the mine is dark by nature, the audio (voices, ambient noise, location-specific sound effects, and exposition) needs to be paramount.

Here are some diagrams and early renders to show the progression:

Early concept of mine model. Mid-project mine model design.
Final mine model design.


Since we guarantee our work (not happy, we work within the budget until you are or you don't pay) we really need top be sure that we are always on track. We do this by building out the solution in stages that are signed-off with clear dated and described milestones.

Here are some clips of the mine as it moved through the development process and was improved after the museum's steering committee approved the next stage:

  • Initial Design View and Evolution:
  • Programming the physics of the Coal Chute:
  • Rigging and Animation the Air Motor:
  • Final View through the VR Headset:

We also collaborated with the retired local miners to gather their guidance, and to provide some narrative and exposition to explain what people were experiencing in the mine. Here's a few nuggets:

Canmore miner Ed Latvala testing the Virtual Reality
  • "Never shine your light in someone's eyes..."
  • "The mice and the woodrats know when..."
  • "When a place caves, like up above here..."
  • "You don't have to be scared, I'm not gonna..."


The museum director (at the time of the project) - Jason Gariepy - stated: "the VR feedback has been overwhelmingly positive."
Gerry Stephenson, the former manager of the mine operations, exclaimed: "I felt I was in the Wilson seam of No.4 Mine, once again after 40 years!".

To date, the VR solution has been running without a single issue related to the software build.
If you want to experience the full power of this VR project, drop by the Canmore Museum and Geo-science Centre and take a look!