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Virtual Reality at the Hermitage Museum

By Elizaveta Grigoryeva

Virtual Reality at the Hermitage Museum

3D-rendered Italian skylight room

 

The State Hermitage Museum located in Saint Petersburg Russia now provides its worldwide visitors to experience its new virtual reality educational entertainment platforms. This VR experience includes 3D models of the famous exhibits—the Italian Skylight room and Jupiter room, and a 360 VR video about the history of the Hermitage Museum starting from time period of Catherine The Great. All these VR entertainments can be viewed through HTC VR headsets.

All the museum’s VR projects were completed in different ways to fulfill specific ideas and purpose. For instance, the 3D models’ projects were completed by two different companies—Vizerra (in collaboration with AMER company) and CROC Inc. Both companies used their own approach for creating their 3D models. However, as a main source material for the models, both companies used high-precision, three-dimensional laser scanning files that were created by Piotr Bialobrzycki, a noted expert working with a Faro 3D scanner.

Vizerra and AMER chose a way of simplifying the multi-megabyte laser-scanning files and recreated a model of the Italian Skylight room with a great degree of the detailing. Vizerra used 3D scans, 2D photography applied to the close-ups of surfaces and objects in the room, and computer modeling. This particular technology offers a viewer an ability to move freely around the room without dependence on designated location points. Moreover, in the simulation, the viewer has an ability to look around the room from any point of view.

 

Italian Skylight room 3D model created by Vizzera.

The description window that pops up when a viewer presses an ID icon.

Lights on vs. lights off: The viewer controls that ability.

 

While Vizerra followed a less complex approach for the creation of the 3D model, CROC chose to work with a more complex exhibit—The Jupiter room. This room is devoted to the sculpture exhibit of ancient Rome, and since the sculptures themselves are 3D objects it required the models be done in greater detail. Therefore, CROC used a photogrammetry technique in order to recreate each sculpture and parts of the room individually to make it appear as realistic as possible. The process required a team of photographers to capture every detail and angle of each sculpture and object in the room. Later, collected photographs were connected together through a special 3D-modeling program to form 3D models of sculptures, the room itself, as well as other objects within.

The resulting Jupiter room is astonishing—an extremely realistic 3D model of the room filled with the 3D models of ancient sculptures and attributes. The room appears exactly the same as the original with almost no notable difference for the viewer. Each sculpture can be observed from any side-long distance, close-up, and even from above. The viewer can move around the room (10–20 meters) by using a control remote that appears on the screen. Also, the viewer may walk around the sculptures and very near (no more than three meters) to them without a need for a remote control. However, the viewer is limited by the space provided for the VR entertainment and sensor’s location. The program also offers audio guides next to the sculptures that appear as a icon button on the headset. If the viewer wants to know more about the sculpture he or she may press the icon to hear more information about the ancient art piece.

 

The Jupiter room 3D model created by CROC, Inc.

 

Future plans for these 3D-model projects will depend on whether or not it can be simplified for the Hermitage Museum’s website since the size of the file is quite large to process. This material can be used as an art object in the virtual room in any Hermitage Museum’s exhibit center, which includes a new center in Moscow. Also, the 34 3D models from the Jupiter room can be used separately for the website section—Virtual Visit—where visitors may look at any sculpture in more details and read some annotations along with their overview. Room 3D models are created based on the exact geometrical size of each room and presented art objects that were scanned by a laser scanner. In comparison, most 3D models created by other institutions are based on drawings, which make these two approaches incredibly unique as it combines laser scans, photography, and 3D modeling, which is a revolutionary technique not been widely used by other museums. The technology may be used for the purposes, such as traveling exhibits, education centers, and even at home by curious minds through their own PC.

One more but no less interesting VR project is a movie that is currently offered on site of the State Hermitage Museum in the General Staff building. The movie, “Hermitage. A Virtual Travel Through Time and Space,” was directed by Mikhail Antkov, financed by partners of the Hermitage Museum, and produced by Super8 studio and Videofabrica company. The movie is 19 minutes long and is available for visitors at price of 350 rubles (6 dollars).

The movie is created in 360 video VR technology. The viewer is placed in the illusion of becoming a participant of the events that are shown in the movie.  A guide named Mystic, who has the power to travel through time and space, inhabites a famous Russian actor—Konstantine Habensky. In the plot, the viewer travels through the main events occurred in Hermitage starting from the time period of Catherine The Great. All events take place in different rooms and locations within the museum, which includes the famous Hanging Garden, the roof of the Winter Palace, and a Palace Square. During the adventure, the viewer is introduced to the current director of the Hermitage Museum—Mikhail B. Piotrovsky.

 

The author exploring the Jupiter room at the Hermitage Museum in Moscow.

The Hermitage Museum is moving forward in its development and growth in the museum world and I am sure it will remain a source of surprise every year with new exhibits, innovations, and technologies introduced to its wonderful collections.

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