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The collection enters virtual space
As part of their final project work in the summer term, students from Trafford College’s BTEC Diploma in Creative Media Production visited Manchester Art Gallery to scan a selection of objects from the Mary Greg collection. The scanning took place as a public activity in the gallery atrium and as part of the visit students were given a talk by exhibition curator Fiona Corridan about object display and lighting. The brief for the project was necessarily open as this was something of an unknown area for both the gallery and the college:
By combining 3D scanning and modelling with contemporary game engine technology South Trafford College is able to generate 3D web content that may offer museum and gallery audiences a new and engaging way to explore collections like the Mary Greg archive.
The brief is open to interpretation and negotiation with the client. There are, however, a couple objectives that you must achieve:
1.Research, design, model, texture and light a contemporary art space.
2.Scan, model, re-scale and texture an artefact from the Mary Greg collection.
3.Import your environment and object into Unity.
4.Employ triggers within Unity to enable viewer interactivity with both environment and artefact
5.Build an executable from Unity that will embed within a web page
Students worked in groups of five to take the 3D digital scans and use them as the basis for re-staging or exhibiting the collection in a virtual environment. Each group worked on several ideas before settling on one which would form the basis of their presentation. Once the project ideas were agreed, students worked to their own strengths – whether this was working up the original 3D scans, providing illustrations to support their final presentation, investigating and testing display options or building a 3D environment in which to stage the collection.
Towards the end of May, the student groups came together and presented their ideas and work to gallery staff. The outcomes revealed that the original objects themselves were capable of informing an extraordinary range of responses. One group considered the notion that a hitherto hidden doorway in one of the current gallery spaces would lead to a subterranean world where visitors would need to make a slightly perilous journey to view objects displayed in an eerily lit treasure trove environment. Another group took the curious surface decoration of one side of a gaming disc – whose meaning is long since lost – and used this as a motif to build a mysterious almost quasi-religious space where the hugely re-scaled disc became almost an object of veneration. Others produced beautifully modelled and rendered exhibition spaces that were both light and open and often structurally confusing, and that would in some ways unsettle visitors and their expectations of both space and object display.
One group pushed at the boundaries of what could be done with the 3D scans and, using an Augmented Reality plugin and a webcam, demonstrated how the virtual models could be realistically superimposed into realtime video of any space.
As a pilot project the results for the students, the course directors and ourselves were fantastically rewarding and insightful. We have also hopefully established a partnership that can build from this work and further develop how the collection can form the basis for genuinely new types of educational engagement and student project development in electronic creative media.
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