Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

info @ archimuse.com

www.archimuse.comArchives and Museum Informatics Home Page

published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


Time travels in virtual online landscapes
Virtual reality - A new challenge in dramaturgy?

Askan Striepe, Christian Quintus
Fraunhofer-Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology Berlin
Birgit Bhme, Uta Simmons
Center for Berlin Studies, Berlin Central Library
Dr. Ingo Braun, Anja Kutzner
Kulturbox GmbH Electronic Media
Leonie Schfer, Andreas Knoche
Research group KIT, Technical University Berlin

"Foggy winter morning"
Diorama by Karl-Friedrich Schinkel

Table of contents
1. VR Anno 1800
"Ladies and gentlemen. My name is Karl Friedrich Schinkel. I am probably not known here in the French colonies, therefore I would like to introduce myself.
I was born on the 13 March 1781 in the town of Neuruppin, about 50 miles northwest of Berlin, and have been working as an architect in Prussia for a quite long time now and with remarkable and ongoing success. The city of Berlin as it still is in your time bears witness to this. Your colleagues from the time travel project generously invited me to this conference in order to demonstrate a VR system I developed with my student Carl Gropius - a name that most likely doesn't mean anything to you either. Well, in my time VR systems are a really big thing, in particular during Christmas business. We call these systems 'mechanical exhibitions', in academic circles they are called a little bombastically 'dioramas'1 . In the beginning our VR system mainly consisted of a large circular panorama painting constructing a closed room system which the user could enter and where he could see foreign places, pre-historic scenes, historical events, etc. The VR concept with the name "fast-time" the colleagues from Berlin presented to me seems to be heading in the same direction. In a second step we added animation features to the system, and turned our pseudo-3-D system into a real 3-D system. We put the panoramas on tracks and extended the system by additional foreground paintings, which were also on tracks. Kinematics specialists developed a mechanism that moved the paintings against one another in a way that the user had e.g. the illusion of strolling around in a real town. And this without any head-mounted display or any other head-tracking device. We finally made the breakthrough by integrating various multimedia modules: Educated speakers supplying the user with background information, an orchestra that generated appropriate acoustics and a complex lighting design for the foreground and background images gave the system the necessary atmospheric quality for the first time. In particular we are proud on our "fog"-feature. With this feature we can wonderfully model the morning fog in a landscape panorama or the smoke in a battle panorama. Dr. Braun, is there any comparable feature in your VR system? Please have a look at the VR model of our VR system, which was kindly generated by the colleagues from the time traveling project. I think it is about time to pass over to Dr. Braun. Thank you very much for letting me present my system without an appointment. I wish you a successful conference and good bye."
1. Further information concerning dioramas can be found in: Birgit Verwiebe, Panorama, Diorama und die Linden', in: Unter den Linden, Exhibition catalogue GKB, Berlin 1997.[back]
2. How many horses are under our hood? Design and features of the time-travel-engine
"Dear Mr. Schinkel, thank you very much for your introduction. I wish you a pleasant journey back to the 19th century." As you have seen time travels are a nice thing, even though, or exactly because they show quite clearly that virtual worlds are not only an achievement of the information society on the edge to the 3rd millennium, as the recent media VR hype wants to make us believe. Mankind has always constructed virtual worlds. Among the creators were artists, musicians, and painters, not to mention numberless storytellers. In our paper we would like to talk mainly about the experiences in dramaturgy and design we had during the development of an online VR landscape. This online VR landscape which is still under construction is supposed to serve as an exhibition platform for museums, archives and libraries. The VR scene is an as realistic as possible reconstruction of Friedrichswerder, a central quarter of the city of Berlin. We have chosen Friedrichswerder because it was once an important center for fashion and media in Europe. Besides, many famous buildings of Karl Friedrich Schinkel are to be found in this area.
And last not least it was an urban area for which complete architectural data were available from one of our project partners: the Bauakademie2 . Friedrichswerder had been reconstructed for three years: 1850, 1928 and 1993 (Figure 1). Since the building development normally changes gradually, we could follow the architectural development of this quarter from 1830 until today almost continuously. Only the massive devastation in World War II interrupts this continuity.

Figure 1 : Northern part of the digitally reconstructed Friedrichswerder in 1850
The digitally reconstructed Friedrichswerder builds up the interface for our online time traveling system. The user can walk around in this quarter and can go back and forth in time. Due to this time-traveling function we consider our VR platform more a 4-D world rather than a 3-D world. Depending on the chosen time the user then moves in a scenery consisting of objects that are specific to this time. Only time specific buildings are presented to the user, and the street environment, public transportation and other vehicles, every day objects, window displays and advertisement posters, people that are dressed in the fashion of the time, etc. These scene objects can be moving objects, e.g. a car, or can be animated by audio and video sequences as for example a radio or a TV set. The user can get additional information, whether it is on a certain object of the scene or on a more general historical context, in separate multimedia browsers which are activated via so-called feature objects in the VR scene (Figures 2-3). Additional information can be made available in all different types of digital media: text, image, 3-D object, sound and film. Access to an online-database can be offered in these browsers by integrated hyperlinks.
Figure 2 : Feature object "Public posters"
Figure 3 : Feature object "Newspaper man"
The architectural and other set objects are located on a central VR server platform. The additional data that can be called via feature objects are located at the information supplier site so long as performance permits and the institution is provided with an online database. The VR server is an open platform for museums and archives. This allows for several online presentations with different content simultaneously. For the prototype system we focus on three subjects which are supposed to be time traveling examples: the architectural history of the city of Berlin, the historical changes of mass media and the history of consumer products. Allow us two words on the technical side of the project: the VR scenery is developed in VRML and Java, PostgreSQL is used to realize the access to underlying databases.
2.All architectural models BAUAKADEMIE Gesellschaft fr Forschung, Bildung und Entwicklung mbH, Berlin.[back]
3. Luggage and lodging: Which objects match the time?

In this section, we would like to address several design issues which we have not yet solved to our full satisfaction.

The convincing power of a VR landscape, in particular when it is about a historical scene, depends a lot on its atmospheric qualities. The atmospheric appearance of a VR scene is determined by the visual aesthetics, including the degree of dirtiness of the generated objects, as well as by the often neglected space acoustics. Computer-generated architectural models are simply too clean - they are only convincing when the story is about new buildings. Otherwise street dirt is missing and the whole range of real life traces of decline caused by time and environment. With current software unfortunately these effects can only be realized with an extremely high effort. In our project the absence of such effects is particularly visible, because for a lot of set constructions we use photographs. The consequence is that new, proper objects are next to visibly old and dirty objects even though they come from the same time period.

The problem of aesthetics mainly concerns scenes of those times before the invention of photography. Imagine that our time machine would really allow us to take brilliant and sharp color shots in the 19th century, and import them into the present. The photographs would certainly not convince us because our collective vision of the 19th century is influenced by paintings. There bright colors and hard contrasts had no place. Therefore for the scenery we try to adapt the visual aesthetics of the 19th century city and landscape painting.

When the problems of appearance quality are solved a time variable VR platform can supply a range of new and interesting options for exhibitions with historical objects and the mediation of historical knowledge. The biggest advantage of VR landscapes is certainly that they can visually supply a historical context for museum objects. In classical exhibitions the context is usually reduced to the literal frame in which the object is presented. The historical context is then available as an explanation text and therefore purely mentally accesible. At best visualizations of the object are supplied in catalogues and can be studied after the museum visit at home.

As opposed to the procedure described above a VR landscape allows us to connect a single historical object with the appropriate urban context and its real life component. In exhibitions with objects related to a historical change this is of particular advantage. The historical context is, so to speak, automatically delivered by the time traveling function as long as the development takes place in the time span covered by the system.

The contextual relation of museum objects supports multiple synergies when the VR platform is used for several exhibitions with diverse issues. This can be accompanied by very practical advantages e.g. when objects of the exhibition with subject A can be used as set for the exhibition with subject B, and vice versa. Therefore we are hoping that the tremendous work effort we have had to put in the set objects of our VR world, could be reduced if a future VR platform was intensely used by museums. In addition, an interesting synergy in content can also be the result. A user who is for instance interested in an exhibition focus "History of consumer products" which is planned by us, will be seduced to also look at information concerning "History of mass media". In this case the connecting element would be the change in product advertisement.

The strong context relation of exhibition objects also has its problematic side. Obviously a connection to a specific every day context demands correct dating and spatial categorization of the object. Since most museum objects are usually presented in isolation, exact information on their life time and distribution areas is not needed. Therefore we had to undertake substantial research to get this missing information for the set objects of our VR landscape.

Another problem pointed out by historians is the historical distortion for which such a VR platform could be blamed. On a pure visual level the differentiation between the museums object and the illustrative set fades for the user. But that is exactly the point. These boundaries are explicitly supposed to vanish: the fading of boundaries is the suggestive power of the VR platform. The illustrative objects are designed in order to recreate history as a whole not only a fragmented piece. It only has to be made clear what they could have looked like that in the chosen time and in the reconstructed urban area in which they could have existed. In contrast, museum objects are defined rigidly. In fact, we could have avoided these accusations by countering that no historian was able to help us when we needed "hard" facts.

Finally, we acknowledge a problem concerning user guidance. Users of the system must be able to receive information on the historical status of an object via adequate navigation systems. The problems of historical framing also demonstrated that an exhibition realized on an online VR platform made greater demands on an interdisciplinary approach than any conventional show. Such an enterprise is unthinkable without a functioning cooperation between archivists, librarians, photographers, historians of diverse special knowledge and a strong willingness to communicate with the involved VR specialists.

4. Packaged tours vs. 'call of the wild': Navigation within online 4-D worlds

As in real life, in virtual reality the question to whom the travel offer should be made, must be addressed. In both situations two opposite types can be found: on the one side the kind of traveler who wants to know before hand what will be expected and who wants to be pampered and permanently informed. On the other side we have the knap sack freak on his search for adventure and authenticity. This candidate would feel uncomfortanle with organized travel and be worried about his freedom.

As in real life both traveling groups could interfere in a negative way. Just think for instance of visual or acoustic hints integrated in the scene which could possibly destroy the knap sack freak's illusion or think of the misuse of the VR platform as a 3-D adventure game which brings the server to a standstill and therefore disturbs a serious traveler on his educational journey. But unlike the real world, the VR-technology has more options available in order to allow both groups to go their own way without interfering. The travelers can switch between free exploration and guided tour at any time. This was the main reason for our decision to offer both possibilities.

The guided tour is addressed to users who have no experience with the navigation in 3D worlds. It is also addressed to users looking for very specific museum information. We are planning to establish guided tours for all three main subjects. With the help of a separate browser window the guided tour will lead the visitor step by step to the historically interesting sites. With every stop additional information to the subject will be supplied (Figure 4). The visitor can decide when the next step will be made. Any time he can switch to the free navigation. For museums which want to use the VR platform for an online exhibition the guided tour is an important design element.

Figure 4 : The "Guided Tour" feature of the time traveling system

Much more difficult to design is the navigation assistance for users who want to move freely. In fact, there are two problems to be solved which are not directly related to each other. First, the user has to be provided with feedback on where he is moving, virtually, and what time he currently is in. Otherwise he will be a victim of the 'lost in space' phenomenon, which here also means a 'lost in time' syndrome as well. In order to prevent this we planned some kind of pilot display which is inserted as a standard object in a separate browser window. In this window the actual time is indicated, and can be changed by turning on a time wheel. Furthermore, this window includes a city map. On the map the actual location of the visitor as well as all the stops of the guided tour are indicated. With a mouse click on the map the visitor can move to another site. With a click on the guided tour stop he leaves the free navigation mode and latches onto a guided tour.

Secondly, the user needs assistance in order to locate those objects behind which additional information might be hidden. Therefore in the map of the pilot display all feature objects will be indicated as hot spots. In the scene itself only the special arrangement of objects will point out on feature objects. Otherwise the interest in free exploration would be lost. Whenever the set contains very detailed or moving objects, or the lighting and acoustics noticeably differ from the surroundings, the visitor can expect additional information.

5. View back on the future of online VR exhibitions

Let us undertake another time travel and let us look back on the near future of our VR platform and other similar VR worlds. Considering the speed of technological development, five years from now should be enough. Well, looking at the year 2003, the view is rather foggy. Still, three developments seem to be quite clear. One development concerning the users of VR landscapes, one concerning the museums and one concerning the data both users and museums are dealing with.

We'll find far more activity in development of VR worlds. Museum educators and teachers obviously overcame their mental reservation against DOOM and other computer games, and encouraged the development of multi-user VR worlds populated with avatars.

The old-style museum belongs to the past. Classical museum functions are no longer under the control of a single curator. Many museums have specialized in purchase, filing and conservation of objects.

The copyrights on images including the copyrights on 3-D presentation are mostly hold by big media and telecommunication companies. Some museums turned into data brokers or exhibition agencies. They react to sensational media events like "The sinking of the Titanic" and organize exhibitions of current interest. This is a development which we actually took for granted when we started to develop our online VR systems.

PICS is as dead as Z3950 - even Dublin-Core and Iconclass are seriously ill. The winner is Extra-Medium-Large. We could have used such a meta data solution on the basis of XML, even for our small project. But one look at the confusion in standards discussed by the museums, archives and libraries convinced us to desist from using meta data.

Final result: We can look back optimistically on our future.

6. Acknowledgment
The research work presented in this paper is financed by DFN-Verein with funds from DeTe-Berkom GmbH. Associated museums and archives of the time traveling project are Landesmuseum fr Technik und Arbeit, Mannheim, Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv, Frankfurt and Berlin and WerkbundArchiv, Berlin. Sponsors are Silicon Graphics, Alias/Wavefront and IEZ AG. BAUAKADEMIE Gesellschaft fr Forschung, Bildung und Entwicklung mbH has kindly permitted us to use its digital architectural models of the quarter Friedrichswerder.

Last modified: April 1, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
Send questions and comments to info@museumsandtheweb.com