Immersive Media Lab

Projection mapped archaeology – one of the world’s first examples


Deva Roman Discovery Centre Projection Mapped Archeology

This video showcases one of two projection mapped museum experiences that use the medium as a powerful way of communicating the history of Chester. This also explains the technical specification and setup of the experience.

Deva Roman Discovery Centre Interactive Archeology

This video showcases the second projection mapped experience at the museum. This shows the functionality of an interactive archeological museum exhibit, and again provided  the technical specification and setup of the experience.

Acknowledgement

It’s worth to preface this with the acknowledgment that this was client work and was a collaborative project. I explained my involvement in the project in the above video. Furthermore, where I was involved in the project, the animation and experience design was developed by myself, with the client only providing historical and contextual information. The animation itself was an individual interpretation of this information.

Reflective Commentry

What happens when a natural love for interactive and immersive media, mixed reality, projection mapping and payed client work come together? One of the world’s first projection mapped archaeology experiences (maybe even the first of this scale). What was achieved was, in my opinion, very engaging and immersive. Let’s begin at the first experience – the large trench.

I had to find a balance between aesthetics, accuracy and user experience, which allowed me to treat certain aspects of historical information and archeology as a metaphor. The fact that there was a Roman wall belonging to the military hospital on the left of the trench will always remain the truth, but did moss and grass really grow on it when the Romans went to build Hadrien’s wall? Maybe? Was there a waterfall, grand columns and a mosaic floor within this 2m x 3m space? Certainly not. But it successfully shows how the Romans’ where known for their wealth and prosperity, in a way that is visually mediated through materials that represent anything but wealth and prosperity.

Being someone who has no interest in history (I thought Saxons came before Romans before all this), I had to consider the audience who would see this every day. Believe it or not, they might not have an interest in history either, because the majority of visitors to the Deva Roman Experience are primary school visits, with children who had only just finished making their Papier-mâché roman pottery for their gran last week. It is important to consider how we can engage with every type of audience that passed through the museum, ‘we must capture the public’s imagination in less time and hold it for longer. We must be worthy of the [subject matter] entrusted to our care’ (p. 433, Rosen cited in Miller, 2014).

What do we all have in common? We are all human beings. The Romans, Saxons, and everyone who dated them are also human, so finding a way to represent this is extremely important. The foot prints and shadows within the Saxon hut floor are incredibly moving and the fact that moss does grow on the rocks when the Roman’s leave the Deva fortress resembles feelings of life, nature and time passing. The street lamp swinging in the wind, and the rebuilding of the medieval walls, all whilst swords clash in the sound track representing the battle of 1066, all act as a metaphor for these human beings living on the same planet as we do, with the same wind, same infrastructure, and battles that we go through every day. These small elements allow this to become much than a projected hole in the floor, but a portal looking back on the thousands of people who once lived here. It’s relatable. It’s really special.

Moss and weeds growing on the Roman walls, with footsteps on the Saxon hut floor

The second experience, ‘the small trench’, is different. It’s the same archeology and the same materials, but presented in a more factual way. There is something still magical, however, about seeing the layers of history projected onto this surface. This works extremely well, as the touch screen controls the experience entirely. Much like an iPad, the interface is there to navigate to the information, but rather than the iPad being the source of the information, the archeology itself is. To the audience, the larger trench is not technologically-driven (unless you look up and see the projector). Whereas, this smaller trench is evidently driven by technology – the tablet is right in front of them. It had to be a careful consideration of the merging of technology and archeology to create a seamless experience – and I think it works really well.

This trench, much like the large one, remains accessible. For a novice like myself, pressing the layers on the touchscreen is purely an experimental experience – I just happen to learn a bit about historical materials at the same time. However, for many, this is an educational tool. On the same day we finished the installation, one of the museum staff members was playing with this experience. I went up to ask how they found it – he loved it. It turned out that he was the man who dug this trench 20 years ago. He was looking at the layers that he had dug with his own hands (and a spade), and reminding himself what is in each layer by navigating through the experience, layer by layer. I can honestly say this was one of my proudest moments in my short career making this type of content. To see the smile on his face when he revealed a new layer was magical, and honestly, very rewarding. This is a very small but significant example of how these silly little experiments we do with projections can turn into something much more important.

References

Miller, C., 2014. Digital Storytelling. 3rd ed. Burlington: Focal Press.