University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Combining diverse modeling techniques to produce high-fidelity reconstructions
Peter Anthony Inker, Taylor Baldwin

Last modified: 2011-12-21


Virtual heritage is an increasingly important expression of a cultural heritage site’s state of research, and one that is also creating new paradigms for understanding the past.  Virtual Williamsburg is one of these new paradigms, a digital model of the Virginian city of Williamsburg on the eve of the American Revolution, in the culturally significant year of 1776.  The model recreates the Colonial cityscape of Williamsburg as a way of understanding cultural norms and behavior, and as an accompaniment to the visitor’s existing museum experience.  As such, Virtual Williamsburg is an expression of the latest archaeological data and analysis of the city, mediated through advanced technologies.  Access to Virtual Williamsburg will be through an immersive virtual environment that provides interactive web-based tools allowing data browsing, research, and connectivity with other Colonial Williamsburg digital initiatives. 

From the outset of the Virtual Williamsburg project the goal has been to recreate the physical environment of the city as accurately as possible.  Creating this version of eighteenth century Williamsburg has led to many expectations from the model; it is not only seen as a pedagogical learning tool, but also as an adjunct to the public’s experience of the physically reconstructed city, and as a unique virtual environment similar to those found in current video gaming technologies.  In imitation of modern virtual environment practices, high fidelity to the real world is achieved by mapping the models with images created from photos of the reconstructed city.  In most instances, these models achieve significantly authentic results. 

In order to attain a high order of authenticity, and to take true advantage of highly-intelligent and physically accurate rendering software (namely VRay), select features are recreated at a finer level of detail (eg: a brick wall is no longer an image-mapped plane but actually populated with brick and mortar objects).  Although modeling and rendering times can become unwieldy, this method not only adds to the model’s verisimilitude, but also allows for archaeological data to be incorporated and evaluated.  This paper will analyze the benefits and drawbacks to this and other approaches, looks at hybrid methods, and considers what virtual heritage can also learn from the video gaming industry.


Virtual heritage; texture mapping; procedural modeling;verisimilitude;