University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Virtually Visiting Williamsburg: The Use of 3D Modeling to Enrich the Museum Guest Experience
Lisa E. Fischer

Last modified: 2011-12-19


Virtual Williamsburg--a 3D model of Williamsburg, Virginia in 1776 currently in development--will serve as a backdrop for a range of engaging educational media for a public audience. Today Colonial Williamsburg is the United States' largest outdoor living history and is dedicated to interpreting the key events that led to American independence and the founding of a new republic. Eighty-eight original eighteenth-century buildings survive and hundreds more reconstructed ones form the core of the Historic Area where guests can interact with costumed interpreters and immerse themselves in this revolutionary city. The new virtual environment being developed is intended to complement the visit experience: technological applications will be developed to support and enhance onsite programming and online presentation formats will be used to engage new and distant audiences. This paper will discuss both our current outreach efforts through blogging and our future plans for releasing an interactive virtual environment using Unity 3D.

In 1776, Virginia's capital city was comprised of more than five-hundred buildings. Many of those buildings are represented in the landscape today and can be used as the starting point for creating the virtual versions. Others, however, have never been reconstructed and are being modeled based on a synthesizing a range of evidence, from archaeological data to documentary sources. To make the modeling process manageable, we have divided the town into neighborhoods and prioritized the order in which they will be virtually reconstructed. The first neighborhood, the east end of town around the Capitol, will be finished by the end of 2012 and a second, the Public Armoury, is already in progress. Rather than wait to complete a neighborhood before making it available online, we have begun using blogging to engage online audiences with the project and provide updates as buildings evolve. This has been an effective approach for providing our audience with an understanding of the normally transparent research process that is happening "behind-the-scenes" as we continually strive to further our understanding of this eighteenth-century town.

We are also currently developing an interactive virtual environment using the gaming engine, Unity 3D. The interface will enable users to explore the model through a variety of modes and to access information about the sites, historical residents, and objects. Virtual Williamsburg will be made available online at first, but in the future it will be converted into onsite applications to enrich the guest experience.


Virtual Modeling; Blogging; Game engines