Art is the perfect medium to visualise the past through the piecing together of fragments of history found in an archive. For artists, the collections open up a world of creative projects to interpret and communicate heritage.
This Arch-I’ve Created series will look into the various ways that our collections have been re-used in a creative context. To get started, lets delve into the ‘art’-chive and have a look at how we previously used digital 3D modelling to get people recreating their own Hull and East Riding buildings using our collections.
Archives in 3D workshops
From 2016-2018 I facilitated a series of full-day Archives in 3D workshops at the Treasure House with the aim of inspiring others to have a go at digital modelling themselves- not forgetting whilst learning about the archives and local history! We used documents from the East Riding Archives collections, such as architectural plan drawings and photographs, combined with 3D modelling software to create our very own digital models of buildings from the region’s past- “How?” you might ask. Blender3D, a free and open source 3D creation suite, was our tool for the practical 3D modelling tutorials. We were able to import digitised images of original plan drawings into the software to use as direct modelling references, almost like tracing but in three-dimensional form. For some architectural details, particularly if the building is no longer standing, a bit of artistic license is required when the documentary evidence in the archives is unclear.
Each standalone workshop adopted a different local history theme, and involved a short talk on how to use the archives to research content for your historical reconstructions (very important for gathering information and images!). We then dived into a step-by-step 3D modelling tutorial aimed at beginners, though those with previous 3D knowledge were very welcome. The first workshop (March 2016) involved exploring Beverley’s built environment with a display of archive material relating to various landmarks, past and present, including St Mary’s Church, Beverley Minster, the North Bar, Charles Hotham’s grand house on Eastgate, the Minster Moorgate workhouse, and the Beverley branch of The Mechanics’ Institute. The group did a fantastic job of modelling a column from the latter’s facade and some even went on to complete the whole building!
Workshops 2 and 3 (2017) celebrated the Hull UK City of Culture year shining the spotlight on the medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan architecture of the region. The group modelled sections from Hull’s Beverley Gate and King Henry VIII’s Hull Castle as part of the practical tutorial sessions. The gatehouse at Burton Agnes Hall screenshot (below right) is the ‘here’s what I did earlier’ example I presented to show how you can add colour to your models, called ‘texturing’.
And finally, workshop 4 (November 2018) explored the vessels of the renowned shipbuilders Cook, Welton and Gemmell along with a few additional maritime structures, such as the old lighthouse at Spurn Point. This workshop was delivered as part of our National Lottery Heritage Fund project Trawling Through Time, which you can read more about on the project blog: Archives in 3D: Maritime.
It all begins with a cube…
As our reconstructions were not intended as millimetre-precise models, but as artistic interpretations, the easiest method to use was ‘polygon’ modelling. This 3D modelling method enabled us to turn a simple cube (the default object in Blender3D) into a complex object by manipulating the cube’s vertices (corners), edges and faces. You can also use a ‘dot to dot’ method as seen in my speed through video below. Lots of patience and perseverance required!
For those interested in the more accurate capture and visualisation of 3D data in a heritage context, photogrammetry and laser scanning offer those capabilities and are widely used in the cultural heritage sector. Polygon modelling is far less accurate due to all objects being made up of a ‘mesh’ of flat surfaces, but is the most popular technique for creating models for videogames and animations.
So… why 3D?
Modelling buildings has always been a personal hobby of mine, largely inspired by a love for the historic environment and scenes recreated in videogames, film and documentaries- think of the Assassin’s Creed games with their tagline “History is Our Playground” (just like archives!) and the Time Team television series. Digital reconstructions can be an effective way of visualising what a place or object looked like at a particular time in history. They can also be educational or fictional reconstructions inspired by the past. The applications are endless. Models can be shared online through being hosted on 3D publishing websites, used in videogames and animations, they can be interactive or still images, used with virtual reality headsets, integrated with augmented reality applications, or even 3D printed into tangible objects!
The Archives in 3D workshops were a fantastic opportunity to share technical skills and creative processes with others, whilst learning about what we do at the East Riding Archives. To round things off, you can watch me describe my process in the below video recorded at the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities (DCDC) conference.
At the East Riding Archives we encourage the creative re-use of our collections. If you have used any of our collections in an artistic context we would love to hear from you!
Hannah Stamp, Archivist