In my class “3D modelling and reconstruction in Archaeology”, my students created a Virtual Reality experience, from the initial research to the final transfer to a game engine. Besides some advice, the students did achieve the end result all by themselves.
Virtual Reality is getting cheaper every day. Prices between 450 and 600 Euro make professional VR Goggles affordable. Even if you don’t want to spend the money on a professional setup, cheaper options like Google Cardboard or Daydream are available. Together with free software like the Unity or Unreal game engines, projects like Virtual Reality in the classroom and visualising it is possible, even for universities.
During the one semester course, students learned the basics of Cinema4D, a professional 3D software for creating visualisations and animations. They learned how to model, texture and combine different objects into one scene. The software is free for students, so they could do their assignments from home. Besides the practical work, they also learned the basics of scientific archaeological reconstruction and discussed different aspects of it by presenting a related article to their fellow students.
After the first half of the semester, the students did vote for and choose a group project and in this years case, it was the reconstruction of the Dionysus House of Cologne. Based upon the magnificent mosaic, visible in the RGM Cologne, the students researched the related building and reconstruction. Each student was assigned a specific part of the building to build, texture and reconstruct. After a couple of sessions, the overall reconstruction was coming to life. Regular discussions and evaluations helped to keep track of the progress and to keep the deadline (end of the semester) in mind. The progress and individual experiences where documented in a blog, that was created by the students themselves.
The last step was bringing the reconstruction into a game engine and finally into VR. For this, we decided for the Unity Game Engine. Basically, all you had to do was the export of the model from Cinema4D into the FBX format. There were some problems concerning the textures, but overall, the transfer onto the Game Engine was smooth. In the last class of the semester, we did explore the reconstruction in Virtual Reality in the classroom.
The students were generally positively excited. They loved the experience and we discussed the possible applications of visualisations like these. The overall consensus was to use VR in museums and public communication, but not so much for scientific research. I personally disagree, because I think there are a couple of applications where VR could actually help research, like visibility or perception.
In the end, I am very happy with the result as every student did learn the whole process from scratch. I already look forward to next years project(s)…