I was immersed into the world of virtual archeology for my Masters Research Project at Ryerson University. The focus of this project was the digital reconstruction of the el-Hibeh temple in Egypt. After four months I believe I was able to demonstrate the potential this medium has to offer as a way of bridging the past and present.
It’s been a while since my last update, so I though I would post a short follow up of the last few months and share some of the final images from the virtual experience.
I added a few additional details, such as the ceiling vultures soaring towards the sanctuary. Beginning with the ceiling piece photographed by the Ranke expedition, I filled in the missing information by referencing the ceiling at Dendera Temple 7.
Ceiling at Dendera Temple 7, sourced from Ruth Hallam: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhallam/5523165911/in/photostream/
The transition from my home computer to the machine in the lab didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had hoped. I was using a Nvidia GTX 1080ti which flew with the graphics. However, when I began testing in the lab I realized the hardware, an Alienware equipped with a GTX 960, was causing frame drops in various areas. To fix this I had to reduce the overall poly count of the scene (primarily from the surrounding vegetation). Bellow are a few images from the final version of the temple and surrounding environment.Having a larger space to walk within was definitely beneficial. Teleporting posed a few challenges to those trying the Vive for the first time. I found that people were trigger happy with the teleporter, as a result they kept hopping to the roof (they seemed a little distressed when I mentioned they would have to through themselves off get back to the ground level). Accidental travel to the roof has become so common that I might remove the navMesh from upper level entirely.
Earlier in the week I had finished texturing the block placement for the second pillar hall. This area is where the entrance to the staircase leading to the roof can be found.
So, yesterday after a lot of fussing with naming conventions in Maya, I brought the temple into the Unreal Engine. It’s a big milestone for me. I had been testing the process out over the past few months on smaller sections, but this time the entire temple was exported out. From this point on, the majority of the work will be done in unreal, with the exception of texture enhancements (like adding in hieroglyphs).
I’m impressed with the dynamic lighting capabilities of the software (even though I still need to read up on Unreal’s ins and outs). I particularly like how the lighting adjusts as you move into darker areas…very cool.
I did run into some issues with the floor tiles. It seems, that there is an issue with the light maps that are generated in the shadowy areas, causing the floor to look very quilted. Hopefully I can solve this without going back to Maya and Substance.
Carlos Santos did a fantastic job translating the topological data of the surrounding area into 3D. I’m going to bring this model into Unreal, to use as reference. I’d like to experiment a little with Unreal’s terrain builder. I believe it is optimized for larger areas of geometry.
This is the week I finally start bringing everything into the Unreal Engine. In prep I’ve been doing some house cleaning (file organization…etc). Additionally, I’ve been building elements to populate the interior.
During Ranke’s dig, sections from two statues were found in the first pillar hall. Both statues were largely damaged. Statue one consisted of the hips, torso, and head. The right hand looks like it is holding an Anhk, the left arm and legs are missing. The majority of the face is missing, their might be an indication of a small false beard, but it’s really to difficult to tell.
Statue two is essentially the hips and right leg. The belt and wrap are similar to statue one, leading me to speculate that these statues were a pair. The overall heigh is a little difficult to judge. Statue two was photographed on a odd angle with a yard stick. and the other was surrounded by boot prints. It’s a guess, but I appears these would have been close to life size, around 5 feet high.
Before building, I studied similarities and differences between a variety of statues. I was surprised to discover that these statues were not truly free standing, They seemed to be more of a dimensional relief, as if they were stepping out of the blocks they were chiseled from (I realize that’s not the symbolism).
I began with a default human mesh in Zbrush, which gave me quick proportions….although these had to be heavily modified.
The base and ankh were modelled in maya. And the final was sent to Substance Painter for detailing.
For today’s posting, I thought I’d show my progression with the sanctuary and its surrounding rooms. I found this area particularly challenging, because of the lack of information (as seen in the photography from the Heidelberg collection, and Ranke’s site illustrations).
I ended up sectioning off each area by material in Maya. Substance Painter organizes objects based on their material association, making it easy to isolate areas to work on.
Before taking the FBX into Substance, I made a pit stop in Mudbox to paint the the bump maps for the stone placement. For some reason I find this process to be faster.
I assigned the bumps and generated normal maps within Substance, which will work with my customized Smart Materials.
After applying and modifying the materials, I noticed that the spacing between the blocks is a little to much (the brush I used was a little thicker this time around causing a larger gap…which works from a distance, but not so good when you get close-up). I’ll need to budget time when I go back to add the hieroglyphs to fix this.
The Storage Rooms and Barque
The rooms to the north and self were used to house various items used in daily practices around the temple. These items still need to be modelled, and will be necessary to flesh out the details by adding compositional clutter.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m bringing on additional help in the final stretch. Joe Chao, another excellent modelling and surfacing artist, is building the barque of Amun that sits in the middle of the sanctuary.
I believe the Barque of Amun would feature the head of the Ram mounted on the bow and stern of the boat. I’ve found several references to this. Joe also came across come good reference images taken at the Egyptian display during the World Fair in Shanghai.
Below are some of Joe’s progression stills. I’ll post more in the next week.
Over the past two weeks I’ve been texturing walls…lots of walls. I’m trying to stay away from repeating texture tiles typically used in video games. These are relatively quick to implement, but they have “that look”.
I’ve opted to paint each wall, I feel this will preserve more of a hand crafted nature of the temple and allows me to stay true to the original block placement (at least those documented). The downside to this approach, is that it’s some what tedious, and a little more time consuming. File size could become an issue when dealing with larger 4k textures. The largest file sizes I have so far are around 14 mb for a 4K exterior wall. Because the dimensions are quite large, I’ve tested converting the original png to a mid range jpeg without noticeable loss in quality, and the file size is significantly smaller….around 2 mb. Once all the textures are finished I’ll do a batch conversion on the main texture folder.
Lighting still poses some questions. Ranke suggested several ways of allowing natural light into the space. In the 1st pillar hall the main door would allow light to stream in. He believed there was a 13cm gap in the ceiling slabs at the back of the room to allow the darker areas to be illuminated. I added in a row of celestial windows to the 2nd pillar hall.
These could only be placed on the north side of this hall, the south side needed allowances for the stairs to the roof. The 4 storage rooms in the sanctuary had narrow vertical slits in the exterior wall that allowed light to enter. I’m having trouble finding additional means of illumination. Were there oil lamps or some kind?
I’ve added two waterspouts to the upper north and south corners of the temple. These are based on the spouts found at Dendera. The roofs had small openings at the rear of the temple to allow excessive water to drain off. I wonder if the roof was slightly slanted to direct the water towards the back of the the temple?
I noticed that there are some hieroglyphs on the bottom portion of the spout at Dendera, but they’re a little hard to make out because of the resolution of the various images I’ve sourced. If anyone has higher resolution images of this, it would be of great help.
Initial low resolution model before Zbrushing.
low resolution (about 3000 quads) after Zbrush
The above is a time-lapse of the sculpt I did for the lion portion of the spot. Hopefully there will be time to go back and update the a few of the proportions of the lion. The lion and base were brought into Substance Painter for detailing.
Just to preface this post, over the next two days I’m going to be a blog posting machine. I’ve been sitting on a few unfinished postings that need to go out before I get to far along in the process. I was debating whether or not I should combine them into one giant omnibus blog posting, but I think I’ll keep them separated for easier viewing.
Now on to the floors…….
……which I needed to rethink. The more I looked at the them the more I realized they were a little too rounded….almost puffy, and I wasn’t loving the direction the textures had taken. Seen below, the floor slabs are much tighter than my original attempt.
I ended up combining the floors in each room, added a lattice to each section and flattened the top quarter to get rid of the puffiness.
After that, I went around sharpening some of the corners. The UV’s were reapplied to each area as a whole, which would make future updates an easier task to accomplish.
I’m investigating populating the temple with a few Priests. I think this will help establish a true sense of scale during the VR experience. Given existing time constraints, these will be non-animated characters. But, I am hoping to have them posed (similar to the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in New York). I’m not sure if they’ll be doing their daily rituals or if it would be a slice of time during some kind of narrative.
Besides establishing height, I’d like to focus on the model’s clothing. I’m having a bit of a challenging time finding specifics on what priests would wear during that time period. Looking over statues, and hieroglyphs of priests, it appeared that the main priest wore a leopard skin slung around their left shoulder.
After doing an initial sketch (trying to make sense of how the clothing is draped) I discovered that that’s not the type of priest I was looking for…..which as it turns out is the UAB (or Wab) priest.
I did a few sketches based off of the images I found.
I wasn’t sure how the sleeves were attached. At first I thought they were float somehow….which didn’t really make sense. I then read that they were sleeves of a shirt (obviously), so I updated the illustration below.
I noticed that the priest seem to wear some kind of necklace. I’m trying to track down some reference, and found this (see below)…..however I’m not sure if this was just for the pharaoh or also worn by priests.
Now that I’m getting close to the final stretch, I’m bringing on some additional hands to help with some of the outstanding elements. Sean Zhang, an excellent character modeler from Ubisoft, is going to help build the priests. My initial idea would be to treat the human element more stylized and representational, so that the focus would be the clothing. But, it would be cool to have a little more details, maybe the skin could be colourless and have a different texture, like that of a mannequin?
Here are a few of pics of Sean’s initial sculpts.
We’re looking into Marvelous Designer for the clothes creation. Have a look at their impressive showreel.