Tudor warship brought to life online via 3D modelling
The evolution of the museum going experience into a shared online experience continues to gain momentum with the latest exhibition to come out of Portsmouth, UK. Skulls and artefacts from the wreck, built in 1545, have been digitalised to give people a taste for life on board the ‘Mary Rose’ warship without leaving their homes.
The exhibition is the first time remains and artefacts from the Tudor vessel (which famously served as Henry VIII's warship) have been shared online. Using 3D reconstruction technology, virtual objects including the skull of crew members and their possessions have been unveiled by researchers in conjunction with British Science Week – taking place in Swansea in Wales this week.
The online gallery (called ‘Virtual Tudors’) is part of a huge restoration and research project taking place Portsmouth since remains of the Mary Rose were recovered from the sea in 1982, and is connected to a dedicated museum which opened in July.
"We've sort of got a virtual ghost ship, with people walking around it and doing things," Alex Hildred from the Mary Rose Trust told the BBC. "Now we hope to have a virtual population that people can interact with online and that researchers, hopefully, may be able to help us build into more complete individuals."
The website is split into public and research domains, where users can view, zoom and set the lighting on artefacts including rope rigging and carved wooden panels via Sketchvia. 120 photographs were take in total of each object, captured at 39 pixels and stitched together using photogrammetry software Agisoft PhotoScan and compressed to make them available in their 15-megapixel glory online. The 3D models, completed in collaboration with MicroPasts, could also be used for graphical displays in museums and in virtual reality environments, opening the door for the museum to make experiencing life on board the Mary Rose even more interactive.
The wider research project – spearheaded by the Mary Rose trust, Swansea University and Oxford University – is examining what can be learnt about the Mary Rose’s crew from ten digitised skulls compared to looking at them in a real-life scenario. Bone specialists from around the globe are expected to participate in the osteological analysis.
Richard Johnston, a materials engineer at Swansea, says the drive for exhibitions like this is creating an online back catalogue of exhibitions. "Lots of museums are digitising collections, and a lot of the drive behind that is creating a digital copy of something."
It remains to be seen, however, how the rise of the online presence of exhibitions like this will change the museumgoing experience in the long-term. It could be argued that like the screening of art exhibitions (such as the recent Matisse exhibition at the Tate) and live theatre streams, this could be ultimately become another avenue for viewing exhibitions to complement the main museum experience.