Ename 1290

Ename 1290 is a real time 3D application that shows the village of Ename (Belgium) and the Ename abbey in 1290. The Saint Saviour abbey was build by the count of Flanders in 1063 on the remains of a major medieval trade settlement. It existed until 1795 when it was abolished in the French Revolution. The history and evolution of the abbey is well documented, both by historical studies and by more than 25 years of extensive excavation.  Ename 1290 is located on the top floor of the visitor centre of the Ename archaeological park, overlooking the archaeological remains.

Ename 1290 has been implemented on the TimeGate system that consists of games PC, a Kinect2 camera and a short-throw projector.  It allows to navigate through and interact with the reconstructed virtual world through arm gestures, with the user standing at a about 5 m distance of the projection screen (2 by 3,5 m) in front of the Kinect2 camera.  The software has been created on the Unity3D platform with the interface to the Kinect2 camera as an internal script.  The gestures are recorded and fine-tuned in a gesture editor.  The gestures include walking forward, looking around (left, right, up, down), selecting an object and manipulating it (rotating it in all directions, putting it back or taking it).  The navigation through the virtual world is limited to a path (which is indicated as a white line in the 3D scene) to improve the efficiency of the exploration of the vast (2 by 2 km) reconstructed area.

The Ename 1290 application has two main uses: on one hand, it provides a virtual walk through the reconstructed abbey under the direction of a museum guide, on the other hand it can act as an educational game,  where every object will reveal a small part of the game story through a short narrative when selected.  Both uses are integrated into one system with minimal effort (turning the object stories on or off).  In both cases, it is a social activity in which the group is involved and discussion and interaction is stimulated, although only one person at the time interacts with the 3D.

The interactive 3D visualisation of the abbey site and interiors has multiple goals. First of all, the 3D virtual reconstruction links to the complex archaeological remains and shows the splendor of the medieval phase of this rich abbey that was closely linked to the count of Flanders.  A second important goal of the project is the re-contextualisation of museum objects. Several objects of various nature have been excavated at the abbey site and are today on display in the Provincial Archaeological Museum (pam) of Ename, close to the archaeological site. In the digital reconstruction of the abbey, artifacts have been digitally restored and are shown in their original context and function. This not only helps the visitor to understand better the nature of the museum objects, but explains also the concept of heritage and the reason why we spend effort and budget to excavate and preserve objects from the past.  Finally, a third goal of the project is a better interpretation of available archaeological and historical data. Reconstructing the inside of the abbey has improved significantly the understanding of the structure of the buildings, their function and interrelation.  The reconstruction efforts on the Ename abbey are publicly documented in a blog.

Ename 1290 is a big success, both for groups of adults and children, and allows also visits to the archaeological site in winter (which is great for schools).  The stunning (and weatherproof) view on the archaeological site in combination with the immersive and interactive virtual reconstructions of the village and the abbey create an appealing experience. Visitors do realise that Ename 1290 is a real time machine and shows them very realistically how the view through the windows looked like 725 years before.  In addition, two Flemish Masterpieces and objects from Ename, which are now in museums abroad, are integrated in the application.

We are currently working on a further development of the TimeGate system, that will show Ename in 1665. We are experimenting with a more complex interaction and a richer story: the user can explore enclosed spaces (for example a house or room) without the limitation of following a path and the decisions a user makes when selecting an object has more impact on the story development.  This results in a better and more appealing development of the educational game, when played as a group.

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