Smoke on the waves brings the roar of war close to the viewer. Photo: Soile Tirilä, Finnish Heritage Agency

The Smoke on the waves virtual presentation brings gaming technology to the museum – 3D models of the vessels will be published as open data


The Fateful Svensksund exhibition will open at Maritime Centre Vellamo on 9 June 2020. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the virtual presentation Smoke on the waves, which allows visitors to be part of one of the largest naval battles on the Baltic Sea. 16 historical vessels were modelled for the presentation, and their 3D models will be published as open data. The exhibition was created in cooperation between the Maritime Museum of Finland and Kymenlaakso Museum, and it is a production of the National Museum of Finland and the City of Kotka.

On a stormy summer day in 1790, the mouth of the main branch of the Kymi River was filled with ships, people and smoke. The Second Battle of Svensksund involved roughly 350 vessels, ranging from large, 40-metre-long archipelago frigates to relatively small oared gunboats. More than 20,000 people participated in the battle, and many of them never returned home.

For the Fateful Svensksund exhibition, the events of the day of the battle have been condensed into an eight-minute-long story that shows the perspectives of both the Swedish and Russian fleets. It elaborates on the experiences of the seamen and soldiers as well as the emotional landscape of the fateful battle. The description of the events is based on the latest historical research.

The writers of the script of the experiential multimedia work utilised a wide network of researchers in Sweden, Finland and Russia and made comprehensive use of research literature and original documents. The events of the battle were set in the sea area off the coast of Kotka based on a comparison of historical and present-day digital maps.

‘Smoke on the waves appeals to the emotions on purpose. The deep breaths taken by the soldiers awaiting their trial at daybreak give way to the brutal roar of war and take you into the arms of death beneath the waves of the sea,’ describes project researcher Aaro Sahari from the Maritime Museum of Finland.

New technology at the museum

The Smoke on the waves presentation represents a presentation method that seeks to influence comprehensively. So far, it has very rarely been seen in Finnish museums. The intensive presentation spreads out around the visitor as an arc that spans over 35 square metres. Visitors do not require virtual glasses or other equipment to experience it; they can move about freely in the space, exploring the historical events.

The creative and technical implementation are by VR studio Zoan. ‘The presentation reanimates a situation comprised of pieces that have almost been destroyed over time, creating a living link to the remnants that allows people of all ages to understand and experience the past. At Zoan, we strongly believe that this type of presentation technology will become more common in the museum sector,’ producer Janne Itäpiiri from Zoan says.

The digital implementation, which can be experienced up close, has required unique technical solutions, such as a large image resolution and a 7.1 surround soundscape that emphasises the visual narrative. The techniques used were designed on the terms of impact and experience in order for the story of the Second Battle of Svensksund to tie in smoothly with the rest of the Fateful Svensksund exhibition.

‘The technology and techniques created for the projection had to largely be custom-made. A great deal of effort also went into the sound production, and the sounds clearly help emphasise the emotional charge of the experience. In terms of the story, we wanted to keep the tone of the message neutral from the perspective of the parties to the battle, with the main message being that war is never worth it,’ director Lauri Laukkanen from Zoan says.

Due to the violent events shown in the work, there is a recommended minimum age of 12 for watching and experiencing it. For the time being, the eight-minute-long presentation can be watched in its entirety only in its own separate space in the Fateful Svensksund exhibition.

Data on historical vessels to be made available to everyone

The creation of the virtual presentation Smoke on the waves required detailed modelling of the vessels of the Swedish and Russian archipelago fleets. Very few physical remains have been preserved of these 18th-century ships and boats. The wrecks of the ships that were sunk off the coast of present-day Kotka alone are not enough to model usable vessels; technological study of history was needed to support the process.

Research literature on the history of seafaring and navies provided a good overview of late 18th-century warships. Other things utilised in the modelling of the vessels included original technical drawings from the collections of Sjöhistoriska Museet, archaeological studies on Svensksund, art from the era and scale models. The modellers of Zoan Oy built the digital models based on these sources.

Some of the modelled vessels are historically significant by themselves. Examples of them include the best-known ship in Svensksund, the Russian oared frigate Svjatoi Nikolai (Saint Nicholas), and the Amphion, a yacht of the Swedish king. Some of the vessels represent key vessel types from the perspective of the outcome of the naval war, such as agile gun yawls and large galleys.

Modelling the vessels was a major undertaking, and the creators do not want the results of this work to disappear into cyberspace. All models of the vessel types will be published for free use under a creative commons licence after the opening of the Fateful Svensksund exhibition. Where the ships of Svensksund will sail in the future will be left to the decision of people well-versed in virtual technology and parties that utilise digital cultural heritage.

The 3D models to be published:
(links to a viewable version on Sketchfab)

The 3D models will be published in the following file formats with their textures:

  1. OBJ, detailed
  2. FBX, detailed
  3. viewable version on the Finnish Heritage Agency’s Sketchfab channel.

The models and the research data concerning them will be recorded in the collections of the Maritime Museum of Finland, and they will be made publicly available via the Finna portal.

Creators and supporters

Researcher Aaro Sahari (PhD) from the Maritime Museum of Finland, who has managed the Bringing History Alive with Digital Storytelling project, was in charge of historical representativeness. Born in Kotka, he is an expert in maritime technology and safety as well as the history of the major areas along the Kymi River.

Zoan Oy, supported by experts in maritime history from the National Museum of Finland, was in charge of producing Smoke on the waves and building the demanding virtual models. The work was directed by Lauri Laukkanen, and the soundscape was created by El Camino Helsinki Oy. The exceptional and demanding technical implementation is by Aki Hypnotist Hirvilammi.

The Bringing History Alive with Digital Storytelling project is being supported by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

More information

Bringing History Alive with Digital Storytelling project, National Museum of Finland:

Researcher Aaro Sahari,, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6107, @AaroSahari

Zoan Oy:

CEO Miikka Rosendahl,
Director Lauri Laukkanen,
CD Janne Itäpiiri,
Zoan Oy

Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation

3D models of the wrecks on the Finnish Heritage Agency’s SketchFab channel

Material bank about the exhibition

Still images of the 3D models of the wrecks