by Anika Radiya-Dixit


Eva Pietroni is in charge of the 3D modeling project, “Livia’s Villa Reloaded”

Have you ever pondered upon how 3D virtual realities are constructed? Or the potential to use them to tell stories about architectural masterpieces built millenniums ago?

The 5th International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology held in the Fitzpatrick Center this weekend explored new technologies such as remote sensing, 3D reconstruction, and 3D printing used by the various facets of archaeology.

In her talk about a virtual archeology project called “Livia’s Villa Reloaded,” Eva Pietroni, art historian and co-director of the Virtual Heritage Lab in Italy, explored ways to integrate 3D modeling techniques into a virtual reality to best describe the history behind the reconstruction of the villa. The project is dedicated to the Villa Ad Gallinas Albas, which Livia Drusilla took as dowry when she married Emperor Augustus in the first century B.C.

The archeological landscape and the actual site have been modeled with 3D scenes in a Virtual Reality application with guides situated around the area to explain to tourists details of the reconstruction. The model combined images from the currently observable landscape and the potential ancient landscape — derived from both hypotheses and historical references. Many parts of the model have been implemented in the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE).

Instead of using simple 3D characters to talk to the public, the team decided to try using real actors who talked in front of a small virtual set in front of a green screen. They used a specialized cinematic camera and played around with lighting and filtering effects to obtain the best shots of the actor that would later be put into the virtual environment. Pietroni expressed her excitement at the numerous feats the team was able to accomplish especially since they were not limited by rudimentary technology such as joysticks and push buttons. As a result, the 3D scenes have been implemented by testing the “grammar of gesture” — or in other words, the interactivity of the actor performing mid-air gestures — in a virtual environment. Hearteningly, the public has been “attracted by this possibility,” encouraging the team to work on better enhancing the detailed functionalities that the virtual character is able to perform. In her video demonstration, Pietroni showed the audience the Livia’s villa being reconstructed in real time with cinematographic paradigms and virtual set practices. It was extremely fascinating to watch as the video moved smoothly over the virtual reality, giving a helicopter view of the reconstruction.


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Helicopter view of the villa

One important point that Pietroni emphasized was testing how much freedom of exploration to give to the user. Currently, the exploration mode — indicated by the red dots hovering over the bird in the bottom left corner of the virtual reality — has a predefined camera animation path, since the site is very large, to prevent the user from getting lost. At the same time, the user has the ability to interrupt this automated navigation to look around and rotate the arm to explore the area. As a result, the effect achieved is a combination of a “movie and a free exploration” that keeps the audience engaged for the most optimal length of time.

Another feature provided in the menu options allows the user to navigate to a closer view of a specific part of the villa. Here, the user can walk through different areas of the villa, through kitchens and gardens, with guides located in specific areas that activate once the user has entered the desired region. This virtual storytelling is extremely important in being able to give the user a vicarious thrill in understanding the life and perspective of people living in ancient times. For example, a guide dressed in a toga in a kitchen explained the traditions held during mealtimes, and another guide in the private gardens detailed the family’s sleeping habits. The virtual details of the private garden were spectacular and beautiful, each leaf realistically swaying in the wind, each flower so well created that one could almost feel the texture of the petals as they strolled past.


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Guide talking about a kitchen in the villa

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Strolling through the gardens

The novelty of the “Livia’s Villa Reloaded” project is especially remarkable because the team was able to incorporate new archeological findings about the villa, rather than simply creating a system from old data without ever updating the visual aspects. Sometimes, as the speaker noted, this required the team to entirely reconfigure the lighting of a certain part of the villa when new data came in, so unfortunately, the project is not yet automatic. Of course, to ultimately improve the application, the team often queries the public on specific aspects they liked and disliked, and perhaps in the future, the virtual scenes of the villa may be developed to a perfection that they will be confused with reality itself.


See details about the conference at: