First person exploration of archaeological sites using Sketchup and Unity3D

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When presenting 3D reconstructions to the public, it is common to use either static images or at most models that rotate along an axis or point (such as those shown on Sketchfab). However it is possible to create more immersive and interesting models simply by using a navigation system that is more accessible and intuitive.

Unity3D offers the possibility of using a first person perspective to navigate a site which requires little effort and no coding. It can even be used to explore a site in VR.

In this article I will look at how to create an archaeological site that can be explored in the first person in Unity3D.

1. Modelling

I like modelling in Sketchup Pro, as it is very simple and intuitive while still being very flexible. I believe the free version now doesn’t support any useful export tools anymore, so if you don’t have a Pro version, feel free to use any other software to create your model (blender etc.). Otherwise, the video below provides information on how to model using Sketchup.

2. Importing

Unity3D has a free version that has most functionalities unlocked, so there is no need to purchase the pro version for this project.

Once you have your model in Sketchup, use the export settings to export the model as a .obj or .fbx file. Other files formats may work too, but I have found that .obj or .fbx is the most suited for the transfer of textures from one software to another.

Create a new project in Unity3D and make sure it is 3D. Then, drag the model files into the Unity asset panel. There should be an .obj file, a .mtl file and a folder with textures, or a .fbx and a folder. Sometimes Unity may have problems associating the textures with the model, so reexport it if there are any issues. If Unity crashes, copy the files directly into the project folder.

Once imported, drag the model file from assets into the hierarchy.

3. Add components

To allow users to “bump” into the model, it is necessary to add some components to the model itself. In the hierarchy search bar find all objects that have mesh in the name. Then, in the inspector panel add components. We need a Mesh Collider and a Rigidbody.

Make sure the mesh collider is not convex, and untick the Use Gravity toggle in the rigidbody. Finally, toggle the Is Kinematic toggle. If you have objects that should be moved by interacting with the user, it may be worth leaving the gravity on and making it not kinematic, so that the objects may move around.

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4. Import First Person Assets

In the Unity Store search for Standard Assets. Download the package, which is free to use.

Within the asset panel, locate the FPSController, which is commonly located at Assets>StandardAssets>Characters>FirstPersonCharacter>Prefab. Drag it into the hierarchy. If there is already a main camera in the hierarchy, delete it.

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5. Explore!

Press the play button above the main screen. Now use arrow keys and mouse to explore the site!

Bonus

If you want to use an Oculus to explore your model, the process is very similar. You need to download the Oculus software from the website and have it open when using Unity3D. Then, follow the same steps as above, but download the Oculus Integration assets instead of the Standard assets. Import the equivalent First Person Controller and enjoy.

Additionally, you may use the Input Mapping to allow the use of a game controller for easier navigation.

There is a lot more that can be done with Unity3D, from interactive tools to information panels. But this is a simple and effective way to explore archaeological models without the need to write any code.

“This is not archaeology” – A talk on 3D reconstruction, replicability and the scientific method.

A few weeks ago I gave a talk as part of the Queen’s University, Belfast, PGR talks. It deals with 3D reconstruction, replicability of the results through metadata and paradata, and advocates for a stronger theoretical background based on the scientific method.

This is also the basis for some conference proceedings that should be coming out next November.

 

For more info you can contact me at rbarratt01@qub.ac.uk

Another publication: Celebrations in prehistoric Malta.

Hi all,

This week has been a good week: here is another paper I have just published for World Archaeology, entitled Celebrations in prehistoric Malta. It’s a collaboration with many authors, but there is some good information on 3D stuff.

50 copies are available at https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/KTC67bb9MHxIeA2jYV5D/full so go get them quick!

 

Rob

Recreating Neolithic Malta’s domestic environment. Article published!

 

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Hi everyone!

I have just got an email confirming that my new article has been published in the Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage journal. The title is “Recreating Neolithic Malta’s domestic environment: 3D Reconstruction of the Għajnsielem Road house”.

It should be available to all for the next 50 days, so read it while you can!

Here is the link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212054818300274

For more info email me at robbarratt1@outlook.com

 

Rob

Just Like the Movies: Thoughts on 3D Reconstruction Animation

Over the last few months in the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, Malta, there has been an exhibition of the FRAGSUS project (https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/FRAGSUS/). This has been an exceptional project I have been working on over the years, and as part of the exhibition I got to display some of the 3D reconstructions I have made of Maltese structures, mainly the Ghajnsielem Road house and the Xaghra Circle.

The models I made were displayed as fly-through animations, which I made using the V-ray plugin for Sketchup. Looking back at the videos I made, I noticed that I was mainly using three types of shots:

 

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The pan
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The zoom
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The Rotation

These are fairly typical shots which can be found in many museum exhibitions and online (Sanders and Sanders 1998; Hixon et al. 2000). It is also reminiscent of online viewers such as Sketchfab.

Now, I am a big movie fan. I am currently going through the 1001 Movies to Watch Before You Die list and I am really enjoying studying the cinematography of some of the films. The way lighting is set up, or the tinting of the scene and the movement of the camera, are all elements that for me make a good film and provide an intense entertainment experience.

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Lighting from The Night of the Hunter (1955)
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Camera placement from The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
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A dolly shot from Jaws (1975)

The aim of film and of 3D reconstruction animation is very similar: they are both presenting some kind of narrative to the public. The way films portray narrative and create aesthetically pleasing experiences is by using tools that could easily be imported into 3D reconstructions. So why not create more cinematic renders of 3D models for archaeological exhibitions?

Here is a new render of the site:

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The shot is done with high coloration, camera blur, faster shots and forced depth of field. I took inspiration from these Wes Anderson shots:

The use of less conventional rendering techniques can impact knowledge retention in the user. The perceived “warmness” of the cinematic experience increases the feeling of immersion, which can lead to increased learning (Favro 2012). Although the images are hyperrealistic, they will be familiar to the viewers as they belong to a medium that is commonly used.

On the subject of accuracy, it is important to note that the realer the images seem, the more they may be mistaken for “absolute truth” (Eiteljorg 1995, 1998, 2000; Miller and Richards 1995; Gershon 1998 and many others).  This is an inherent issue in all 3D reconstructions, but that I would argue is a deeper problem for all of archaeology: the very museum displays in which the 3D reconstructions are presented often follow a single narrative, while ignoring evidence against it or alternative theories. While it is therefore vital to ensure the correct information is accessible by the end user, it would be impossible to convey the complexity of a 3D reconstruction in a museum setting.

As a wider argument for 3D reconstruction as presentation, I would propose that the finished render should have the liberty to display freely aesthetically pleasing imagery, even to the loss of accuracy. This is possible so long as the model is verified through careful research that is accessible and (when possible) peer reviewed. This would ensure a level of quality in the final render that takes into account inaccuracies but doesn’t limit the user enjoyment.

A much longer discussion on the accuracy in 3D reconstruction is the subject of my current PhD Thesis, but I would suggest reading Sifniotis, M. (2012), which proposes a scientific method of dealing with inaccuracies.

In conclusion, 3D reconstruction animation doesn’t have to be boring or “cold”. Rendering of 3D models can learn a lot from films when it comes to presenting to the general public. By creating aesthetically pleasing content, user enjoyment and learning become the priority.

REFERENCES:

Eiteljorg, H. (1995). Virtual Reality and Rendering. CSA Newsletter Vol.7 No.4.
Eiteljorg, H. (1998). Photorealistic Visualizations May Be Too Good. CSA Newsletter Vol. 11 No.2.
Eiteljorg, H. (2000). The Compelling Computer Image – a double-edged sword. Internet Archaeology 8.
Favro, D. (2012). Se non é vero, é ben trovato (If Not True, It Is Well Conceived) Digital Immersive Reconstructions of Historical Environments. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vo.71 No.3 pp.273-277.
Gershon, N. (1998). Visualization of an Imperfect World. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications pp.43-45.
Hixon, C., Richardson, P. and Spurling, A. (2000). 3D Visualizations of a First-Century Galilean Town. In: Barceló, J. A., Forte, M. and Sanders, D. H. Virtual Reality in Archaeology pp.195-204.
Miller, P. and Richards, J. (1995). The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Misleading: Archaeological Adoption of Computer Visualisation. In: Huggett, J. and Ryan, N. Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum pp.19-22.
Sanders, J. and Sanders, P. (1998). Constructing the Giza Plateau computer model. Available: https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/projects/constructing-giza-plateau-computer-model-1990-1995. Last accessed 23rd Oct 2017.
Sifniotis, M. (2012). Representing Archaeological Uncertainty in Cultural Informatics. PhD Thesis.

 

Contact me

Dear all,

It has been a few weeks since I have written any new articles, and that is because I have been away for family reasons. However, I am now back and hope to get new content out for you in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, I have noticed a spike in views on this blog and some of the readers have actually gotten in contact with me to ask questions. I think this is fantastic and would love to talk to anyone who has an interest in Visualisation. For this purpose, I wanted to share again my email address:

rbarratt01@qub.ac.uk

Feel free to get in contact for any reason, or feel free to comment under any of the articles I have posted.

Also, I will be attending a lot of conferences in the upcoming months. If you are at any of the following I’d love to chat! The conference I am attending are:

EAA Annual Meeting – Barcelona, 5th-8th September

CAA-UK – Edinburgh, 26th-27th October

Visual Heritage 2018 – Vienna, 12th-15th November

 

Finally, I have a number of publications in different stages, and will post updates as soon as they come out.

Hope to hear from you all soon,

Rob

Alternative 3D Models: Multiple Vs Singular Interpretations

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As part of my PhD project, over the last few months I have been researching trends in Visualisation from its incipit to today. I’m attempting to create a solid theoretical background upon which to build my own work, and in the process I am learning a lot of the philosophical and methodological foundations upon which 3D reconstruction stands.

There are many topics that I have found particularly interesting, some of which I have talked about before, and some of which I will write about in the near future. Today though I would like to concentrate on a topic I feel has only been discussed in passing: the creation of “alternative models”. Not only do I feel we need to dwell upon this subject more, I want to go against current trend to present a counterargument for their utility.

3D researchers have been advocating for alternative models from the start of Visualisation (Reilly 1992; Mathur 1997; Roberts and Ryan 1997; The Guardian 1999; Huggett and Guo-Yuan 2000). The basic idea is that it is impossible to present all hypotheses in a single 3D reconstruction, so a number of models should be reconstructed instead, each representing an alternative theory.

Alternative models fit within the general concept of accuracy. One of the major concerns with 3D reconstruction is the narrow scope for presentation of hypothetical data. Models are often built upon incomplete information, and as a result it is impossible to recreate a perfectly accurate representation of the past. There is a distinct worry amongst specialists and skeptics alike that without sufficient transparency 3D reconstructions may misinform and deceive an uninformed user (Bayliss 2003; Kensek et al. 2004; amongst many others). This concern is certainly founded, and while some suggestions have been put forward in an attempt to minimise the problem (Pang et al. 1997; Strothotte et al. 1999), the lack of a cohesive and enforced set of principles limits the reliability of 3D reconstruction as a methodology. We are moving in a positive direction, and publications such as the London Charter offer legitimisation of the use of these technologies (Beacham et al. 2006; Denard 2009). Yet there is still a need for enforced guidelines that can reduce, or at least explicitly state. inaccuracies.

The use of pink cement (Lock 2003), or Dell’Unto et al.’s (2013) levels of accuracy are good approaches to the problem, and the literature has embraced such ideas for the better. Alternative models, on the other hand, have been lurking in the background, often mentioned but never fully discussed. They are mostly used as an addendum or a failsafe, an attempt to silence any possible critic of the accuracy of the models. It is interesting how most of the publications that mention alternative models do not present alternative models themselves: papers concerned with the theoretical background use it as an example of ways to preserve accuracy, while technical papers omit alternative models altogether (with a few exceptions i.e. Roussou and Drettakis 2003). It is also important to note that they are always mentioned positively.

I would like to present a counterargument. I do not believe alternative models are bad, or that they have no uses. There are certainly occasions in which they can convey information more efficiently than other methods. I do however believe that they have a limited scope, and that using them as a way to present inaccuracies is counterproductive to the defining of a 3D methodology.

The limitations of alternative models can be expressed as so:

  • Physical and publication space managment
  • Time requirements
  • Multiple hypotheses representation

Physical and publication space management: using alternative models to present inaccuracies to the public or to fellow researchers requires for this information to be readily accessible. At present the issue with 3D documentation is one of space. Publications often do not possess enough space for a full documentation of the reconstruction process, and the problem is exacerbated in heritage management where information has to be tailored to an uninformed public. In most cases, the presentation needs cannot accommodate the presence of multiple models. Metadata and paradata are beginning to appear in publications through the use of online repositories, but the handling of multiple large models is still problematic.

Time requirements: 3D reconstruction is a process, which follows a number of steps. Work by Guidi et al. (2012; 2014) show an ideal example of the reconstruction procedure, with accumulative levels of detail and archaeological checks at the end of each phase. In order to reconstruct most alternative models, the split must occur right from the volumetric model. By doing so each variant must be constructed individually, or the subsequent changes must be reflected in each of the different models. Attempting to change the model in the later stages of production is still possible, but it requires more work, as there are more elements that need to be manipulated. Either way, the results is a distinct increase in the production time.

Multiple hypotheses representation: another logistical problem has to do with models with many conjectures. When is it necessary to create multiple models? If we are too strict with our definition of inaccuracies then every element in the reconstruction is in question. We would therefore end with numerous models with very subtle differences. On the other hand, if we we were too lax the purpose of using alternative models is void, as displaying only some of the hypotheses would render this process redundant. Additionally, if many hypotheses were to be displayed through alternative models, it would be necessary to create a model with every possible arrangement of hypotheses, exponentially increasing the number of reconstructions.

In addition to these limitations, my argument against the misuse of alternative models has to do with traditional methods of presenting archaeological data. Archaeological reports often attempt an objective analysis of the archaeological evidence, describing what has been found and trying to limit conjectures, frequently presenting multiple theories. Yet when interpreting an archaeological site, it is not uncommon to create a narrative. Certain evidence is omitted and new meaning is imposed on the remains, in an attempt to justify the current archaeological interpretation. Part of the scientific method is to present the data and propose a unifying theory, with the expectation that the theory shall change when new evidence comes to light. And archaeology subscribes to this view: while multiple scenarios may be presented in publication, there is often one preferred interpretation.

Therefore, in traditional archaeology the data is analysed to produce the results. Objective data is transformed into subjective interpretation, and with a change in the data comes a change in the interpretation. The uncertainty is accounted for in the source and not the output and the same should be true for 3D reconstruction. Metadata and paradata are paramount for the replicability of the process and for validating the hypotheses shown in the results. We must find better ways of preserving and presenting this form of information, to ensure the 3D methodology is valid. Alternative models however are part of the output, where subjectivity is allowed and even encouraged.

Critics often note that in Heritage Management the public is more susceptible to misinformation, making 3D reconstruction a ‘dangerous’ tool. Yet museum displays often present a single narrative, reducing complex archaeological issues to simplistic linear stories. While it is still a problem 3D reconstruction needs to address, the discussion has wider implications in the way we present data to the public.

Additionally, I am not saying that alternative models cannot have uses in archaeological presentation. In some cases the conflicting theories are at the core of the discussion, and alternative models help create a virtual representation of what this conflict appears like visually. A good example of this is the Patay-Horvath (2014) paper regarding the positioning of statues at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Here the alternative models are used effectively to communicate the main argument. It was however a deliberate choice from the author, and it had a specific purpose.

In conclusion, alternative models are not always the best option for presenting inaccuracies. While occasionally they can be effective in demonstrating conflicting hypotheses, in a wider methodology for 3D reconstruction they have little space. Presenting metadata and paradata still offers the best course for demonstrating uncertainty.

 

References:

Bayliss, R. (2003). Archaeological Survey and Visualisation: the View from Byzantium. Late Antique Archaeology Vol.1 No.1 pp.26-313.
Beacham, R. C., Denard, H. and Niccolucci, F. (2006). An Introduction to the London Charter. The E-volution of ICTechnology in Cultural Heritage.
Dell’Unto, N., Leander, A. M., Ferdani, D., Dellepiane, M., Callieri, M., Lindgren, S. (2013). Digital reconstruction and visualisation in archaeology: case-study drawn from the work of the Swedish Pompeii Project. Digital Heritage International Congress pp.621-628.
Denard, H. (2009). The London Charter: for the computer-based visualisation of cultural heritage.
Guidi, G., Russo, M., Angheleddu, D. and Zolese, P. (2012). A Virtual Connection between Past and Present: the Digital Revival of Cham’s Architecture (Vietnam). Virtual Systems and Multimedia pp.361-368.
Guidi, G., Russo, M. and Angheleddu, D. (2014). 3D survey and virtual reconstruction of archaeological sites. Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage 1 pp.55-69.
Huggett, J. and Guo-Yang, C. (2000). 3D Interpretative Modelling of Archaeological Sites/ A Computer Reconstruction of the Medieval Timber and Earthwork Castle. Internet Archaeology 8.
Kensek, K. M., Swartz Dodd, L. and Cipolla, N. (2004). Fantastic reconstructions or reconstructions of the fantastic? Tracking and presenting ambiguity, alternatives, and documentation in virtual worlds. Automation in Construction pp.175-186.
Lock, G. (2003). Using Computers in Archaeology: Towards virtual pasts. Routledge: London.
Mathur, S. (1997). Three Dimensional Representation of Archaeological Data in American Archaeology. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20000816044424/http://www.uiowa.edu/~anthro/plains/Termppr.htm. Last accessed: 31st Oct 2017.
Pang, A. T., Wittenbrink, C. M. and Lodha, S. K. (1997). Approaches to uncertainty visualisation. The Visual Computer pp.370-390.
Patay-Horvátz, A. (2014). The virtual 3D reconstruction of the east pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia – an old puzzle of classical archaeology in the light of recent technologies. Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage 1 pp.12-22.
Reilly, P. (1992). Three-dimensional modelling and primary archaeological data. In: Reilly, P. and Rahtz, S. Archaeology in the Information Age pp.92-107.
Roberts, J. C. and Ryan, N. (1997). Alternative Archaeological Representations within Virtual Worlds. In: Brown, R. 4th UK Virtual Reality Specialist Interest Group Conference – Brunel University pp.182-196.
Roussou, M. and Drettakis, G. (2003). Photorealism and Non-Photorealism in Virtual Heritage Representation. First Eurographics Workshop on Graphics and Cultural Heritage.
Strothotte, T., Masuch, M. and Isenberg, T. (1999). Visualizing Knowledge about Virtual Reconstructions of Ancient Architecture. Computer Graphics International.
The Guardian (1999). Megabytes of megaliths. 23rd September 1999.

How Video Games help present and interpret Neolithic Malta.

 

Hi all,

I gave a talk yesterday as part of Queen’s University Belfast PGR Talks. I had it recorded as I thought it would be interesting to share here some of my recent results.

I intended this presentation for those who may not be familiar with the topic, so it may be a bit vague at times, but it should provide a useful introduction to 3D reconstruction and gaming software.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comment section.

Rob

Interpreting and Presenting Archaeological Sites Using 3D Reconstruction: Virtual Exploration of the Xaghra Brochtorff Circle in Gozo.

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Hi all,

Just as a heads up, I have uploaded my MPhil dissertation to Academia.edu, so go and check it out.

It’s available here.

It discusses 3D reconstruction in the Maltese islands, as well as using gaming software to analyse archaeological sites.

Feel free to comment here with any questions you may have. I’m hoping to increase communication on this platform this year!

 

Rob

Paper on Using Unity3D for Archaeological Interpretation

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Just a quick note to say that I have published an article for Archaeological Science: Reports regarding the use of a Unity3D script to calculate solar alignment at Ggantija, Gozo.

It is unfortunately not as open access as I would like, but I’ve been told that the article will be available for viewing for the next 50 days at https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WFZO,rVDBK0IJ

If you have an interest in using 3D Reconstruction for analysis do check it out, and feel free to get in contact at rbarratt01@qub.ac.uk for more information.

Rob