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JISC 3D Visualisation in the Arts Network

3DVisA Bulletin, Issue 2, March 2007

ISSN 1751-8962 (Print)
ISSN 1751-8970 (Online)

Editorial by Anna Bentkowska-Kafel

Will computer models ever get better? This question was raised by Michael Greenhalgh in the September 2006 issue of the 3DVisA Bulletin. The concern seems common to all those who create and use 3D visualisations, as well as those who think it is far too early to consider environments created within a computer as credible research tools. I am delighted that the question has provoked much debate, and am pleased to be able to include in this issue Angela Geary's response to Greenhalgh's scepticism as expressed in his review of the computer model of the temple site at Phimai. Geary's argument, founded in years of research experience in this field and a background in fine arts and conservation, carries considerable weight. She is fully aware of the technical limitations of software and other problems, yet with her trust in creativity – not surprising for an artist – she sounds optimistic: 'There is no longer a specific barrier, other than our imaginations, to developing a new generation of visualisation tools that can fully represent the richness of the visual, geometric and time-based data that can be acquired from artefacts.'

Robert Laycock and Stephen Laycock contribute to the same discussion by presenting new haptic technologies for generating high-quality computer-generated environments. They draw on a number of projects they have been involved with in the area of architectural and urban studies and demonstrate new possibilities for creating pseudo-tactile virtual spaces.

There is no question that the ever greater photo-realistic capacity of computer graphics and life-like behaviour in the latest generation of virtual environments makes them increasingly more attractive. An historical overview of the developments in this area over the last forty years was presented at the Barbican Game On exhibition, which has just closed at the Science Museum in London, having toured Europe and the US since 2002. The technological leap from the early games of the 1970s to the latest releases is remarkable. The Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 consoles, demonstrated at the last, London leg of the exhibition ahead of their UK release, alongside Sony's new 'communication game', Eyetoy, are proving the extent to which technology is becoming an invisible part of the computing experience. This is now becoming an intuitive and all-encompassing interaction. Non-profit academic application creators can only look with optimism at the technological race in this multi-billion dollar global industry.

Arts and humanities computing continues to benefit from developments in other areas. Some of the doubts concerning the visual and operational qualities of 3D computer environments may eventually be dispelled thanks to models developed elsewhere. However, heritage visualisations continue to raise subject-specific problems. The credibility of an historic visualisation cannot be guaranteed by photo-realism alone. Paradoxically, photo-realism may on some occasions contribute to a fake reconstruction. While encouraging creativity and the application of novel techniques, 3D visualisation of heritage demands a rigorous methods to ensure that the persuasiveness of visual arguments does not exceed what the evidence justifies. This issue is being addressed by The London Charter, the proposed standard for heritage visualisations, now open for consultation. The digital reconstruction of archaic artefacts excavated in the Etruscan Caere, today’s Cerveteri, illustrates this concern. A terracotta slab with a painted figure, of which only a fragment has survived, provided the basis for a complex digital reconstruction of a temple which might have been decorated with this slab, and its surroundings. The aim of the project, discussed here by Luciana Bordoni and Sandro Rubino, is to place this computer modelling in the context of a wider information system, not excluding the poetic memory of the past.

I hope you will enjoy reading the articles. Full text and more illustrations, including animations are available online. As advertised, these pages are intended as a forum for a community-wide debate on topical and current issues in 3D visualisation. The scope for experimentation and innovation is huge. It should also be added here that 3DVisA is offering an award, aimed at students who are prepared to respond to the challenges detailed above. Please contact 3DVisA for more information.

Your comments and contributions to future issues are welcome.

© 3DVisA and Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, 2007.

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