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The use of 3D representation allows us to better understand the past and even to discover hidden properties in the data we possess. One could create such 3D model from historical drawing and integrate material and physical properties, which can enhance our knowledge of a particular building, vessel, site or even a city from the past.

Researchers from EPFL used a CAD software to produce a high quality 3D model of the Venetian Galeazza using ancient drawings found in history books. By using this model and selecting the correct materials they created a realistic rendering of the ship and, by using a naval simulation tool, they were able to compute a fine estimate of the center of gravity. Using the later, they could analyze the weights distribution, and they were able to estimate the quantity of merchandise that the Galeazza could carry, the position of the ammunition as well as the quantity of potable water available on board. They made a slideshow video of their work :

Moreover, the integration of 3D models inside a virtual environment can help to propagate knowledge to a broader audience. For example, a team of researcher from the University of Western Sydney Australia created a computer simulation game that projects the player into the life of Aboriginal people prior contact with British colonists. Their idea was to create something different than a simple website which is usually consulted by people already wanting to get information on a given topic but rarely by people discovering it by accident. They’ve chosen to create an educative video game, which on the contrary, has the appeal of the “game”. Additionally, they’ve worked closely with Aboriginal artists, elders and communities to get the most accurate assets possible. The game they created is available in two formats; the first is a 3D game in which the player follows a general quest and learns different parts of the Aboriginal culture, and the second one is a “free world” virtual reality experience which works with a virtual reality headset. Here’s a video presentation of the game they created :

On the other hand, such 3D models, rendering and more generally 3D “experiences” must be stored and displayed in a way that they can be viewed and used by many people. In his paper, Erik Malcolm Champion explains the technical obstacles encountered while making the link between 3D rendering and text resources as well as interactions problems with the 3D model. More precisely, he discuss about the requirement for the archival of 3D data and large photographs created from sites in Australia, as many scholars are complaining about the small amount of such material and the issues encountered while using it. The community must gather and decide on a open and free file format, with cross platform visualizer. A few projects that are trying to solve this issues already exist, for example the Smithsonian X 3D which propose a WebGL visualizer of 3D scanned objects but, while it uses an open technology, it’s not using some previously defined universal format.

It’s clear that the use of 3D representations and virtual reality will significantly increase therefore it’s very important that the community decides on open formats and open visualizer. 3D data is expensive to store and, even if graphics processing units are becoming cheaper and more powerful every year, handling a large amount of data very quickly requires modern hardware. However the discussion is worth having as the possibilities and advancements to be maid using 3D representations are limitless. One solution to cut the cost of storing such large amount of data would be to store only the relevant part of the model and use procedural data for the “rest” of the rendering (there exists a variety of software to generate trees, cities and even planets procedurally).


  1. Alessandro Cavinato, Beat Geissmann, Konrad Robert Vandevelde, Olivier Dalang, Dario Rodighiero A 3D Model Of The Venetian Galeazza
  2. Erik Malcolm Champion Infrastructure Requirements For A UNESCO World Heritage Archival Infrastructure
  3. Tomas Trescak, Melissa Williams, Terry Sloan, Anton Bogdanovych, Simeon Simoff Aboriginal Dreaming meets Virtual Reality
  4. An example of procedural generation software : ESRI CityEngine