A new multimedia website, commissioned by Dublin City Council, offers insight into how Dublin city played a pivotal role in the Rising. Caoimhe Gallagher and Frank Lynam report
Tech

While the concept of virtual reality (VR) has been around for a long time, its application in museums, historical websites and heritage sites have yet to be fully explored. Since 2013 in particular, VR solutions have become much more affordable to the average consumer. Oculus and Google Cardboard, along with accessible technologies, software and hardware like Jump, Giroptic and the Cardboard Camera app, offer the potential to fully realise the potential of VR in the way that smartphones revolutionised the way we use photos and video.

But this is only beginning to be explored. There is a real opportunity for VR to enhance our experience of museums, galleries, visitor centres and historical sites. From encouraging more active engagement and learning to enhancing existing interpretive content, VR can enable visitors to discover sites closed to the public like, for example, the cave paintings of Altamira or the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in Egypt. A little girl looking at the fossilised remains of a pterodactyl could be transported back into the late Jurassic period and see those remains come to life. An astronomy student could learn about the solar system and how it works through physical engagement: moving planets, seeing around stars and tracking the progress of a comet.

Experience of historical events like 1916 through VR has the potential to provide a more explicitly spatial perspective not just for the visitor, but for a historian analysing and interpreting the event: how the narrow confines of a set of streets may have influenced battle tactics, or how visualising the angle with which a bullet ricocheted off a wall can help re-evaluate the motives of a shooter.

The centenary programme provides the impetus to test, innovate and develop new technologies and new approaches to history, commemoration and education. The first four years of this decade of centenaries has seen remarkable developments, of which The City and The Rising developed by NOHO Ltd for Dublin City Council is a prime example.

1916: the virtual museum


City and the Rising

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The site provides a day-by-day breakdown of Easter Week, 1916

NOHO Ltd is a specialist producer of captivating digital experiences for museum, corporate and broadcast clients. Examples of its audio-visual and interactive work can currently be seen in Ireland at the National Museum, the National Library, Dublinia and Kings John’s Castle, Limerick. Further afield, its work is in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, Cromford Mills in the UK and at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Kentucky, USA.

The City and The Rising site is Noho’s most recent 1916 online project. It features an interactive map of Dublin with images, text and videos that connect incidents and events of Easter Week with specific locations across the city. On The Rising timeline, visitors can map the events of each day, analysing how the aspirations of Easter Monday turned into the brutal reality of human carnage and the physical destruction of large areas of the city centre.

A web app, The City and The Rising is built upon a tried and tested set of web technologies including PHP, HTML, CSS, JS, jQuery, Bootstrap and Leaflet. Almost all of the app’s processing is carried out on the client side of the connection within the user’s web browser. The site has been designed and tested to be fully responsive, meaning that a customised view is presented to the user depending on whether they are accessing the site on a desktop or laptop PC (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer running on a Mac OSX or Windows OS) or on a mobile or tablet device (iOS, Android). The viewer can inspect and explore specific sites including Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), Dublin Castle, Mount Street Bridge and others.

In each location, fascinating snippets of information and notable places are highlighted such as the rebel trenches in St Stephen’s Green, the Ringsend Distillery building where Eamon DeValera raised a decoy flag to distract British forces and Mrs Cogan’s grocery shop at 10 Moore Street, where the rebels took refuge after fleeing the General Post Office (GPO).

The centrepiece of the site is a 3D virtual environment, which presents the key sites as they were in 1916 – currently only the Sackville Street is available for download. Users can download these Virtual Museum experiences and play them on their desktop PC or using the Oculus Rift VR headset. The team at Noho has created a virtual reconstruction of some of the key Rising sites and objects using a range of sources (photographs, the Thoms directory, archival material and maps). These various models were then used as assets for video and realtime VR representations. These reconstructions are invaluable resources for understanding The Rising narrative from a spatial perspective.

In addition, the site presents a range of multimedia content (text, archive and 3D-rendered imagery and 3D-rendered video), which can be accessed via the map-based user interface. Map data is constructed and presented using an image tiling engine to ensure that users can access high definition map imagery even when browsing the site via a mobile device. User can also turn on and off map layers, which overlay period maps onto the modern base map of Dublin, to discover how the layout of Dublin’s streetscape has evolved since the time of the Rising.

WebGL user interface and spatial interpretation


Keyfigures

CLICK TO ENLARGE: One can follow the key figures through their actions during the Rising

Four of the key Rising sites are presented using a cutting-edge WebGL user interface. Briefly explained, almost all modern computers and most smartphones have powerful graphics processing units (GPUs), which often have more number-crunching power than the central processing unit (CPU). But until recently, this potential has been largely ignored by the majority of web applications. This previously meant slow, low-quality graphics, almost always in 2D. That all changed with the announcement of support for WebGL applications by the leading browsers. WebGL, based on the well-known OpenGL 3D graphics standard, gives JavaScript access to the graphics hardware, via the HTML5 canvas element – making realtime 3D graphics rendering in web pages possible.

The City and the Rising ‘Virtual City’ is at the forefront of this cutting-edge technology. The site’s WebGL view is run natively within the browser, which means that there is no need to include third-party plugins, as had been the requirement when presenting 3D content of this scale via the web in the pre-WebGL days. Recreating the city that spawned the 1916 Easter Rising in this way casts an entirely new light onto its streets and buildings, enabling new perspectives and new interpretations of this key event in Irish history to be formed.

The 1916 commemorations in particular have inspired pioneering and innovative use of mapping technology and multimedia content. Along with The City and The Rising, two highlights stand out.

  • RTE’s Reflecting the Rising offers a 2D map that includes fascinating first-hand source material, including video and sound recordings of personal accounts from men and women who lived through Easter 1916.
  • Dublin Rising is a virtual street-view tour of Dublin in 1916 developed by Google in collaboration with (amongst others) Glasnevin Trust, the National Library and Trinity College Dublin. It differs from RTE’s Reflecting the Rising in that it does not focus on primary source material and chooses instead to situate the information within a particular context, as the viewer is guided through the history of the event by the narration of actor Colin Farrell.
StephensGreen

CLICK TO ENLARGE: St Stephen’s Green was a centre of action during the 1916 Rising

The City and The Rising employs elements of both approaches. The primary source material is situated within a well-informed context, which encourages in-depth engagement with the event. It avoids a didactic approach and allows viewers to explore 1916 through an innovative range of primary sources. The information is presented in an interactive and intuitive way, which aims to encourage an analytical approach when engaging with the events of 1916. These three websites’ pioneering use of the technology contribute to a growing interdisciplinary field at the cutting edge of 21st-century research methods and teaching of history and the humanities.

In the words of Jim Keogan, assistant chief executive, Planning Department, Dublin City Council, “This interactive map created by NOHO Ltd allows users to see how the streets and buildings of the city shaped one of the most important episodes in Irish history. The sites at Sackville Street, Moore Street, Dublin Castle, St Stephen’s Green and Mount Street Bridge have been reconstructed as 3D virtual environments to give a real life experience of that time.”

Summary of website’s technical innovations:

  • The City and the Rising site is built upon an industry-standard web stack – PHP, HTML, CSS, JS, jQuery, Bootstrap, Leaflet.
  • It has been designed and tested to be fully responsive meaning that it can be viewed on all of major PC (Mac OSX, Windows) and mobile Operating Systems (iOS, Android) using any of the leading web browsing clients (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer). Not only will the view of the site be tailored to the user device but also the content itself will be selected based on the technical capabilities available to the client.
  • The site presents a range of multimedia content (text, archive and 3D-rendered imagery and 3D-rendered video) around a map-based user interface.
  • Map data is constructed and presented using an image tiling engine to ensure that users can access high definition map imagery even when browsing the site via a mobile device.
  • Noho created a virtual reconstruction of some of the key Rising sites and objects using a range of sources (photographs, the Thoms directory and maps). These various models were then used assets for video and realtime VR representations. These reconstructions are invaluable resources for understanding the Rising narrative from a spatial perspective.
  • Six of the key Rising sites are presented using a cutting-edge WebGL user interface. The WebGL view is run natively within the browser, which means that there is no need to include third-party plugins, as is typically the case when presenting 3D content of this scale via the web.
  • The user will also be able to download a Virtual Museum of a number of the key Rising sites. Once downloaded, the user will be able to interact with the content using an Oculus Rift VR headset or using a desktop application interface.

Acknowledgments include: Royal Irish Academy, the National Library of Ireland, Getty Images, Wikipedia, RTÉ Archives, Kilmainham Gaol, the Contested Memories Project, National University of Ireland Maynooth and Dublin City Council.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/dcc1-1024x576.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/dcc1-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanTechDublin City Council,heritage,software,technology
While the concept of virtual reality (VR) has been around for a long time, its application in museums, historical websites and heritage sites have yet to be fully explored. Since 2013 in particular, VR solutions have become much more affordable to the average consumer. Oculus and Google Cardboard, along...