A key component of the Emotions3D research project is to experiment with digital curatorial techniques to enhance user interactivity and affective engagement in three-dimensional, digital and online contexts.
Below are some of the ways the resource was deliberately curated to shape the way we respond to objects in the collection.
Lighting and shadow
Lighting and shadows play an integral part in museum curatorial practice in institutions across the globe. Objects can be grouped, singled out for intense scrutiny, and demarcated according to moody or airy lighting conditions. Emotions3D is no different, and selecting particular lighting conditions was part of the final post-processing stage of visualisation.
However, one difference between digital photogrammetry and conventional museum display practice lies in the way that photogrammetry processing sometimes removes lighting and shadows in the final model. This is due to the way photogrammetry assembles an ‘idea’ of the object from a selection of composite images – and in doing so, can somewhat flatten and deaden the visualisation. This can result in perceptive uncertainty and a degree of cognitive discomfort when we view cultural heritage that is supposed to appear ‘lifelike’ and realistic.
Objects in the Emotions3D collection therefore had to be treated in the post-processing stage to address the lack of shadows (and to a degree, lighting) to reinsert visual markers that suggest a sense of age and realism. While not conveying a completely ‘authentic’ rendition of each object, these curatorial tweaks reveal a more valuable characteristic – heightened emotional engagement from the viewer.
Background for objects
Similar to lighting conditions, the material backdrop against which cultural heritage is viewed can shape the way we react to it. Initially, the objects in this collection were going to be displayed against a plain, black background, however the Sketchfab ‘Tropical Ruins’ backdrop provided a more suitable context for cultural heritage display.
The lighting intensity of the ‘Tropical Ruins’ backdrop was reduced for most models (to avoid background light overshadowing the content), yet this pre-set backdrop still conveys a sense of historicity and dynamism which would not be present in a completely unadorned digital context.
The initial viewing angles of each object in the Sketchfab viewer were chosen to ‘bring the viewer’ to the most advantageous viewing point from which to approach each object. This is similar to the way curatorial staff position objects within museum displays to maximise interaction with objects while maintaining pedestrian flow through museum spaces. In short, the objects in this collection were initially showcased from their most engaging viewpoint.
In addition to this, the viewing angles for each object were tailored further through deliberate annotation markers which tour the user around each object. Annotation points provided the opportunity to rotate each object according to specific features, and allow the viewer unprecedented access to all of its parts. The Trepanning Dummy and the Amputation Saw were annotated in 3D to ‘zoom in’ on specific ‘sites of interest’ which related to their function or material properties. Likewise viewers were invited to peer directly inside the Stirling Burgh Box, flat against the pages which line the box, in a way that would be impossible even if the viewer were given unrestricted access to the original artefact.
Finally, some of the viewpoints on the 3D models in this collection are integral to understanding their full cultural context, yet would never be seen if the object was displayed in a conventional museum. Emotions3D allows viewers to appreciate how Japanese Netsuke were designed to amuse or delight their owners in their original historical context, by providing unprecedented access to the delicately carved toes and expressive faces on every side of the object (including underneath!).
Annotations and object biographies
Museums are increasingly condensing descriptive content accompanying cultural artefacts; or removing it altogether. This is part of a drive to reduce the cultural apparatus by which museums have traditionally mediated our experiences with cultural heritage, and places possibilities for interpretation back into the hands of viewers.
Emotions3D adheres partly to this principle by separating longer descriptive content away from the visual engagement with the object. Emotions3D offers short, but carefully curated descriptive content to all parts of objects – reducing the amount of information provided with the object but offering new ways to access information directly appended to its material properties. This is a similar principle to the function of hypertext – information made available through digital annotation which allows the viewer autonomous control over what they choose to access. The annotation function can, of course, be turned off, should the viewer wish.
The longer descriptions which accompany the Emotions3D collection were designed to help viewers understand the original cultural and emotional context of each object. Although each description is carefully researched, it does not display upon immediately viewing each object. This reduces ‘visual clutter’, while allowing viewers access to a deeper emotional understanding of objects in terms of their subjective relationships to original users and to museum audiences today.
Context in the digital environment
A major critique of digital heritage is the loss of context when objects are removed from their original physical surroundings within museum collections. This natural product of digital cataloguing, due largely in part to the tiered metadata structures of digital archives, separates individual objects into discrete clusters of data.
Emotions3D is subject to the same issues – each object is displayed in a single viewing pane encountered on its individual webpage. Yet by curating objects according to certain emotional characteristics (and originating from the medieval and pre-modern period), Emotions3D offers the capacity to bridge these virtual divides. Additionally, instead of traditional means of classifying objects into period, taxonomy, or function, Emotions3D offers a new way of approaching objects, bringing disparate digital assets together as a single History of Emotions ‘collection’ on the website. Moreover, there are ways of building virtual environments which can further group objects in the same virtual space; which is one of the future goals of the Emotions3D project.
A sense of scale in virtual reality
The Emotions3D collection can be viewed in virtual reality on the Google Cardboard viewer, meaning that users can experience the objects in a greater degree of stereoscopic visual display. One advantage of this feature is that the Sketchfab VR viewer can also customise the scale of objects for viewing in virtual space. This overcomes the lack of scale which often occurs in digital environments where tiny objects such as the Teething Toy with Whistle are displayed in the same context as much larger objects, such as the Trepanning Dummy and Child’s Prosthesis.
Not only do digital and virtual environments offer an increasingly similar viewing experience to seeing the original object, but they offer new ways to customise cultural heritage content to meet addtional needs of viewers and heritage institutions.