W9 – 3D Modeling and Interactive Environments

As technology around us continues to progress at lightning speed, new media allows us to recreate the world around us (and others) with incredible accuracy. 3D modeling is one of these new media that is changing how we understand our world.

Interactive environments filled with buildings, characters, and other objects modeled in 3D can act as virtual extensions of our reality. Some 3D video games leverage this kind of experience in their promotions. Hyper-realistic graphics and first-person views contribute to high levels of user immersion in AAA video games like Crysis, Battlefield 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Grand Theft Auto IV. For many players, realistically rendered game worlds allow for an escape from reality into a virtual reality. Whether it is old-world fantasy quests, modern day escapades, or visions of a space-age future, the power of 3D models lie in their authentic spatial dimensionality.

3D modeling’s potential is not limited to entertainment and gaming. Digital Humanities scholars can use virtual environments to their advantage. In “Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship,” Lisa M. Snyder writes, “within virtual environments created to academically rigorous standards, it is now possible to explore reconstructed buildings and urban spaces, re-create the experience of citizens of other eras, challenge long-held reconstruction theories, and gain insights into the material culture of past civilizations in ways never before possible.” Snyder is part of UCLA’s Institute for Digital Research and Education, a cooperative of faculty and technologists working to advance the existing body of computing knowledge and expertise at UCLA. Snyder and colleagues saw the potential for virtual reality and 3D modeling to not only create new worlds, but also recreate old ones. These kind of virtual realities are promising for scholars who have been without 3D visualization tools for so long. Why look at 2D archeology site plans when you can walk around the rendered campsite? The challenge this technique presents is that these environments are only as useful as their models are accurate. Therefore, the level of detail achieved in video game worlds is not feasible.

Last Winter quarter I took AUD 10A with Diane Favro. For one of our projects, we described a historically accurate narrative that took place in the Roman Forum. The tool we used in class was VSim, a IDRE Research Technology Group Project led by Snyder and others. The software visualization tool came preloaded with the Roman Forum models and a timeline slider that allowed the environment to be viewed at different time periods. Although the environment was very plain, the ability to wander across an architectural landscape thousands of years in the past was incredible. The experience was similar to a video game, but instead of creating a new story, I was reliving a past one. I used VSim to recreate a funeral procession across the Roman Forum in 211 and it was my favorite project from Favro’s class.