Digital humanities are about teaching and learning; learn and teach better with tools of our century, the technology century. That is why we chose to pick a project in which we could learn the most and dig into subjects that were totally unknown for us. Our working group is composed of 2 mechanical engineers and 1 environmental engineer. The project itself aims to resituate a typical Venetian Palace of the Italian Renaissance. With the support of Stefania Coccato, art and historical expert from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, we decided at first to work on the 3D reconstruction of Niccolò da Carrara’s Palace. As the data that we collected was not enough detailed and the latter was destroyed, our new angle was to model as accurately as possible the essence of typical patrician houses of the period, particularly their interior. The final product should be playful and understandable by the biggest range of people. We wanted its purpose to be educational and if possible, a source of knowledge. Each part of this project was totally new for us. From the two soft wares that we used (SketchUp & Unity3D) to the Early Renaissance period, we entered in a totally new world. But don’t worry, this paper is about a success and not a fail. We truly hope you will enjoy your virtual visit in this beautiful house.
Our project is separated in 3 main phases: data gathering, implementation of the acquired data on SketchUp, creation of the Unity3D interface in order to allow an educational visit of the users in the house.
Before going further in the technical matters, we feel that the real purpose of the project has to be described more deeply. Indeed, as later the project is supposed to be in open source in order to let people implement more features, it is important that they know to whom it is addressed. From the beginning, we guessed early renaissance was not the most intellectually accessible subject for the average people. More than that, to our knowledge, there were no educational platforms to know better this period. We strongly think it is important today to update the way we learn and teach with our century. Nowadays, we have powerful tools that allow us to be more accurate in the sources, to treat more data and treat them in the best way possible in function of the public you want to target. People targeted in this project are children, schools and museums. We tried to focus on people wanting to discover this interesting period of Venice and on people who need to learn in a playful way. The visit should be interactive, agreeable to follow and giving interesting facts of a typical patrician house of the Early Renaissance.
But before thinking about this educational goal, we had to acquire the maximum of data from this period and more specifically how people lived in the Early Renaissance. Even more precisely, we wanted to know how the politic social class lived in this period, what were their habits and cultures. Niccolò da Carrara (1282-1344) is an Italian Politician. He was Ubertino da Carrara and Iselgarda’s son, he belong to the noble Carraresi family, which comes from the province of Padua. There are not more noticeable facts about him and this makes the research even more complicated. When we decided to model Niccolò da Carrara’s palace in Venice, we faced two problems: the first one was that this palace was basically destroyed and that it was impossible to have any present information on it because totally new structures replaced the palace today, as for example the new train station of Venice. The second problem was that this period of the Early Renaissance is a period that culturally suffers due to the big lack of data. Indeed, it is very complicated with basic research to find anything relevant concerning the way of living of its population. That was the moment when Stefania Coccato helped us with her knowledge. We had access to the structure of Niccolò da Carrara’s Palace and its inventory, which pretty much gave us an idea of the kind of things you could use at this time.
But still, we figured out that it was too complex to focus only on Niccolò da Carrara’s Palace and we had to widen our scope. We decided to model a typical patrician palace from the Early Renaissance and this objective was already a good challenge. It was really important for us to have very accurate sources and to focus on relevant and valuable data. In our opinion, it is better to have less but quality data. In fact, you will find in the virtual visit all sources when we had some, and specifications to justify our work. Some aspects of the visit are assumptions and we tried to mention it when it was the case. Again, Stefania Coccato helped us a lot in finding reliable data as iconographic content, supposing that it was pretty much with inventories and books the only source of transcription we could find.
This is the list of the data we acquired, the objects we find the most and assumptions we made from the literature review:
- The bed is the most important and the central part of the bedroom. Indeed, “the sleep which redistributed the necessary energy to the worker is also necessary for the noble man who wants to be a careful seller, a valorous military officer or a capable politician”. The bed was usually made of wood, was highly decorated and sculpted to illustrate the owner wealth and taste. Bed sheet colors were often combinations of yellow and blue or red and green, in our case we tried to change colors to red and green in order to fit the inventory colors. The bed-curtains and blanket are normally decorated with stripes. Moreover, the motives engraved in the bed could represent the families’ flags.
- As shelves and cabinets did not exist at that time, each room contained one or several chestsnext to the bed that had their function. It is believed that the chest is the second most important element of the bedroom, as we know that the inventory of different patrician houses bedrooms contained at least one. As the inventory says, chests were not filled only with clothes, but also with books, candles and so on.
- Walls were often garnished with tapestry. Indeed, it was a sign of wealth to have ornaments on the walls in contrast with the poor who could not afford it. This tapestry also was made of combination of colors.
- Chairs were not very common in bedrooms. Stoolswere more used. The inventory shows that people frequently sat on large pillows laid directly on the floor.
- Other objects like praying altars were sometimes disposed in order to pray. Religion was very important at that time, even more in Italy.
We did not succeed in gathering as much data as we thought but we preferred to go on with the software work considering that we did not have any knowledge on SketchUp and Unity3D. That is why we decided to begin the data implementation and to keep searching in parallel more information.
After few hours of SketchUp discovery, we handle to implement almost all information we had on the model. SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architectural, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, film, and video game design. We implemented all the basic data on it in order to have a 3D sketch of the Venetian Palace we wanted.
In parallel, we begin the Unity3D learning. Unity3D is a cross-platform game engine developed by Unity Technologies and used to develop video games for PC, consoles, mobile devices and websites. The idea is to export the sketch and skeleton of the project from SketchUp to Unity3D. The last software was used to implement the virtual visit and allow the user to move randomly in the palace.
After having implemented all the data we acquired, we tried to focus on the educational interactivity of the visit. Indeed, just walking through the Palace would not give any interesting information to the user, only few images. That is why we decided to implement some explanations on the key objects in order to divide the visit in several steps in which the user could learn more about the way of living of Palace’s former inhabitants when facing some key objects as for example the chest or the bed. The playful feature is in the interactivity with the user.
The virtual visit can be played on the following link. Displacements are made with the (W,A,S,D) keys and the camera and clicking are handled with the mouse. Please take into account that the final version of the visit will be online on May 27th 2015. Until then, the version of the visit that you’ll be playing is an incomplete performance test, which is not representative of the final outcome that will be interactive as explained before and with more details. The following link has been tested on the Safari browser; Google Chrome is not an option as far as we know.
Antoine Poncelin de Raucourt
Nicolas de Raemy