Digital Past 2015 Conference

Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Beautiful windows at the Guildhall, Swansea

Last week I trekked from Yorkshire to Wales for this year’s Digital Past conference, held at Brangwyn Hall (the Guildhall), Swansea (11th and 12th February). It was worth the 7hr train journey!

The conference was organised by RCAHMW and featured talks by archaeologists, photographers, librarians, educators and animators- a wide range of expertise and backgrounds.

To see the full line up of speakers check out the conference’s blog site.

I went to hear about some of the fantastic examples of digital technologies currently used in heritage projects, from 3D printing, Minecraft, augmented and virtual reality to gigapixel photography and laser scanning. I particularly enjoyed the strong 3D visualisation and gaming theme looking at historical accuracy, game based learning and public engagement. I was really blown away by the talent for modelling historical architecture and interiors, and it is definitely something for me to aspire to!

Digital Past Sphere
Giant inflatable sphere- lots of fun!

The key aspect for me that came from the two days was the importance of digital inclusion and capturing stories to create a local passion for heritage. One of the barriers is simply a lack of interest and technologies can help break that barrier as it offers the public involvement and participation through activities such as crowdsourcing.

Many thanks to RCAHMW for the fantastic conference! You can also follow the conversations  tweeted on #digitalpast2015.


PROJECT: Re-Visualising pre-1539 St Mary’s Abbey, York- Part 6

St Mary's Abbey YorkA small update on my abbey project. I am currently in the process of modelling some of the more detailed gothic decoration of the abbey’s exterior. This is quite difficult as the abbey’s decorative plan is only speculative at this point, with hardly any archaeological evidence. As a result I am referring to the schemes of other local ecclesiastic buildings  such as the York Minster and other Benedictine abbeys. 

Another part of the model I have been working on is the River Ouse created from real grass and dirt textures and a water photo. I intend to eventually blend the edge of the riverbank model with the grass model.


I am also beginning to model portals and their doors and add stained glass texturing to the windows. After that I will start to model some of the other buildings in the complex, such as King’s Manor (Abbott’s house), the Hospitium and St Mary’s Lodge, and also make a start on populating the grounds with trees and foliage.

*screenshot author’s own.

PROJECT: Re-Visualising pre-1539 St Mary’s Abbey, York- Part 5

abbey 3 july

Some more progress on my MSc dissertation project.! After trialling out some textures, taken from, I visited York Museum Gardens to obtain photographs of the abbey which I can then use for the final texturing of the model. The above screenshot is the beginnings of my UV mapping the abbey with the real abbey textures.

When it comes to texturing the stained glass I may have to continue using the generic glass I used in my trial texturing, see previous post. Most of the content and design of the glass is unknown from archaeological excavation, therefore looking at other Benedictine abbeys may be useful for this.


Another feature I have been working on was adding the arcade in the cloister (above) and started some bump and specular mapping. Aspects to alter next would be the scale of some of the texture mapping and I also need to start thinking about adding doorways and looking at the design of 16th century kings manor!

*all screenshots author’s own.

PROJECT: Re-Visualising pre-1539 St Mary’s Abbey, York- Part 4

abbey 19 may

Just an update on my pre-dissolution visualisation of St Mary’s Abbey (York)! I have not posted in a while as I have been spending a lot of my time on this project, but from the screenshot you can see I have made a lot more progress since my last post, and I have started trialling out textures and adding some of the more intricate gothic features.

I’m currently using free textures from but will later take some photos of the abbey ruins itself in the York Museum Gardens as to use the actual stone as the abbey stonework for the final model render. The current background photo was taken in Swanland, East Yorkshire, as a basic representation of countryside. This will be useful for when rendering a natural light on the scene.

One aspect of modelling the abbey I found particularly difficult was the tracery windows. I originally began modelling the windows by subdividing edges and translating vertices across a window plan (taken from Ridsdale’s artist impression)  however I decided that this was a problematic long route around something that could be done in a few clicks. I then tried a quicker different method, the boolean modifier tool, which turned out very well as it “cookie-cut” geometry from the window mesh. This saved me half the time and made the quatrefoils and lancets much neater shapes than had I been creating the curves myself.

I am currently also in the progress of modelling some general natural scenery, such as trees using the sapling add-on, which will decorate the abbey grounds. I will make these as random as possible, and will use a variety of leaf textures.


I still have a long way to go whilst keeping an eye on the polygon count! Features still to model on the abbey buildings are rose windows, windows for the other buildings in the complex, alcoves, buttresses and portal decoration. I will also need to find a suitable grass texture for the grounds, and will look into how I’m going to represent the River Ouse.

*all screenshots author’s own.

PROJECT: Re-Visualising pre-1539 St Mary’s Abbey, York- Part 3

5 elevation heights amended2

Just a quick update on the modelling of St Mary’s Abbey, York, in Blender…

After around 14 hours, I have now altered the wall elevation heights to match the plan drawings I am working from (see previous posts 1 and 2 for more info on these). It now looks a lot more like the very basics of a Benedictine Abbey!

I am finding that the Ridsdale artist impression is a little inaccurate to the plan drawing of the abbey which was based on archaeological excavations at the site. This is an issue, who do I trust more? I’m leaning more to the newer plan based on excavation evidence carried out after Ridsdale’s drawing, and just using Ridsdale’s impression as a secondary reference.

Next steps: completing the roofs of the other buildings in the complex, and beginning to “sculpt” the micro-architecture on the exterior facades before creating the windows.

PROJECT: Re-Visualising pre-1539 St Mary’s Abbey, York- Part 2

Okay…so I have now hit the 12 hour mark (I am tracking this as I go along) and I have made some (a little) progress since my previous post on my dissertation project.

I have now modelled the plan of the abbey and it’s surrounding architectural complex. I may add the precinct walls after I have finished the main structure, but here is a screenshot of where I am up to regarding the abbey plan:

3b plan complete

My plan of the abbey is modelled to scale based on a reference image that is formed from archaeological record, as most of the abbey is not standing for us to see today.

My next steps are getting the elevation proportions correct. This will be very difficult as the only images I am relying on are artist’s impressions such as this one below by Edwin Ridsdale Tate (1929) Image source: Mee, F and Wilson, B (2009) ”St Mary’s Abbey and the King’s Manor, York: The Pictorial Evidence”).

Edwin Ridsdale Tate 1929 impression- Mee and Wilson p23

For the other buildings in the complex, such as the chapter house and cloisters I will have to use my architectural knowledge of proportion alongside a close examination of Ridsdale’s elevation to work out how high I should elevate the walls, or what architectonic decoration they should have (particularly with St Mary’s being a Benedictine abbey, it will be very ornate).

I have started using Ridsdale’s elevation impression for modelling the tower, spire and roof, and I will also lower the heights of the abbey’s surrounding buildings. The screenshot below is is where I am at the moment of this project.

Overall, I am aiming for accuracy in my visualisation, both archaeological and architectural. This project is certainly bringing to light issues in visualising the uncertain. How will I represent the uncertain in my model? Also, to what extent can I rely on Ridsdale’s artist impression? What research did he base his drawing on? Whilst I model the abbey I have to think about these types of issues.

4 elevation beginnings and tower

Visualisation of Ecclesiastic Architecture- Appropriate in Gaming?

It’s been a very busy few months on my masters degree so haven’t had chance to post on here since October, but it has got to the important thinking-about-dissertation-topic stage and it has got me wondering about the benefits and downfalls of representing and exploring heritage locations through computer gaming.

In gaming we encounter many real-life locations, still standing today, lost or even mythologised – when else will we get to free run inside the Santa Maria del Fiore (Assassin’s Creed II), go tomb-raiding at the lost city of Vilcabamba (Tomb Raider (both original and Anniversary) or traverse up Mount Olympus to battle the gods? (God of War III)

It is when we start depicting locations or buildings in games which people today regard as sacred when controversy arises, for example in the depiction of ecclesiastical architecture.

For a seminar I had to select an example of 3D visualisation, contemporary or dated, which I considered to be “iconic” in related to heritage.  I decided to incorporate this with my love for computer gaming environments and I chose the representation of Manchester Cathedral in the 2007 Sci-fi game Resistance: Fall of Man. The representation of the cathedral itself would be considered dated in terms of today’s computer graphics, however to me it was the controversy it caused that made it “iconic.”

The Church of England made a series of legal accusations against Sony (the game’s publishers) that the game desecrated the Cathedral by promoting violence, particularly gun violence, in a city that was trying to lower it’s high gun crime statistics. Sony reacted by stating that the game was a work of fictional entertainment, making comparisons the television series Doctor Who which often incorporated real locations into its story lines. It was defended by one of the game’s designers, Ian Bogost, that the use of an accurate depiction of the monument instead of an anonymous location encourages players to pay attention to it as a structure that “demands respect.”

“Resistance adds a fictional homage to the church’s resolve, this time in an alternate history fraught by an enemy that neither understands nor cares for human practices like religion. And it survives this as well. The Church of England sees their cathedral’s presence in Resistance only as a sordid juxtaposition, the sanctity of worship set against the profanity of violence. But when viewed in the context of the game’s fiction, the cathedral serves a purpose in the game consonant with its role in the world: that of reprieve for the weary and steadfastness in the face of devastation.”                                                    Ian Bogost

The Church of England wanted from Sony an apology, a substantial donation, complete withdrawal of the game or modifying the segment featuring the interior of the cathedral, and financial support of Manchester groups trying to reduce gun crime in the city. Sony pledged to not include the Cathedral in another game.

Despite the Church of England’s reaction to the representation of the Cathedral in the game, the controversy has resulted in a significant increase in its visitor numbers according to David Marshall, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester. Teachers tell him that teenagers in particular are interested to see a building which they thought was fictional and that tourism has increased since the broadcast of pictures taken inside the Cathedral.

All of this had me wondering whether it is appropriate to depict authentic sacred locations in gaming when placed into a context that would not be acceptable in the real-world? Does the depiction of genuine ecclesiastical heritage have a place in the gaming world? Just some questions to consider…

For more architecture in gaming click here!


Manchester Cathedral in Resistance: Fall of Man