Longhouse 1.75

Longhouse 1.75 came about as a request from Dr. Neal Ferris to organize and present at a session on Virtual Archaeology at the Canadian Archaeological Association Conference (CAA) in London Ontario of May in 2014.  The presentation entitled VFX Methodologies for Scientific Visualization in Archaeology was an opportunity to expand on some of the tools and methodologies being developed, as well as provide some insight into the world of visual effects and animation to the archaeological community.  Once again I worked with longtime VFX Technical Director Andrew Alzner to establish a more robust procedural virtual longhouse modeling tool based on our previous Longhouse 1.0 and Longhouse 1.5 research and to start exploring the concept of a phenomenological experience of the viewer.  Several additional prototypes were designed, however the technology and computing power required to essentially create a real-time visual tool fully rendered put it out of reach of most general consumers and archaeologists alike.

Coincidentally during this time, fellow colleague VFX Supervisor Noel Hooper, had just completed VFX work for Yap Films Inc. and Dr. Ron Williamson, c0-founder of ASI, on a new documentary called Curse of the Axe.  The documentary narrates the discovery of a European trade good found in a massive pre-contact Huron Wendat palisaded longhouse village now called Mantle.  Beyond the discovery of the cultural material, the site itself is stunning in terms of occupation length, community size and town or city-like organizational systems apparent throughout the archaeological record.  Archaeological data indicates there were 98 longhouses within a 3 row palisaded enclosure, occupying 9 acres of living space which housed an estimated 2000 inhabitants.  This town/city harvested over 60,000 trees over its lifetime to build the community and may have farmed over 80 square kilometres of land to feed its population.  The image below is a reimagined representation of a partially constructed longhouse created for the film’s publicity.


Lost in the rush to embrace 3D visual effects in representing material culture, I failed at the time of the presentation to mention one of the first representations of Iroquoian longhouses in visual media; Bruce Beresford’s 1991 movie adaptation of Brian Moore’s novel, Black Robe.  The phenomenological experience of the practical set gave the audience a sense of what it was like to live within a communal longhouse.  Although practical effects heavy and some scholars would say, highly European centric in vision, it eludes to how longhouse life might have been; densely populated, laden with everyday goods and heavily saturated with atmospherics such as smoke, fire light, dust and external light.  It was a gritty visual artistic account of what longhouse living was like.


Additionally, in 2012 Ubisoft Games released Assassin’s Creed III (AC3) which would take place during the Revolutionary War, presented a new direction in experiential narratives.  AC3 included a main character of Haudenosaunee decent in which part of the game play would include Haudenosaunee inspired longhouse reconstructions.  Below are screen shots of the game play associated with some of the longhouse sequences.


In developing AC3, Ubisoft brought on Thomas Deer and Dr. Kevin White, both Mohawk descendants, to consult throughout the project.  Obviously artistic license plays out liberally throughout AC3, however there are some areas of longhouse design and construction which seem to correspond to the archaeological record.  In the image above, the shingles are roughly 1 x 2 metres in dimension, which corresponds to the historical and oral histories of longhouse building.  The entrance and the height are obviously designed for game play, yet the outer support lattice work is suggestive of European historical accounts and drawings.


Although lost in the middle back portion of the image above, we see a partially constructed longhouse missing the rounded vestibule of the finished versions in front and to the right side of the image, again acknowledging the archaeological record. Although Dean Snow has indicated that Haudenosaunee longhouses were thinner and subsequently lower in height compared to Northern Iroquoian examples, these examples are virtually gigantic in size.  However, it did allow users to interact with the 3D environment and in doing so, opened up the possibilities of further expanding how the public could interact more effectively with the archaeological record.

The VFX for Curse of the Axe, the game design for Assassin’s Creed III and the set design for Black Robe, all focused on the esthetics of the narrative being told.  That the audience had to suspend belief in order to be enveloped by the story.  Although from a scientific perspective, the procedural longhouse model building methodology was more closely aligned to Paul Riley’s concept of Virtual Archaeology; the combination of actual archaeological data in the creation of 3D visualizations. Our attempt to concentrate exclusively on the mechanics of the actual longhouse build lost sight of the personal experiences and narratives today’s public and more importantly, stakeholders not only desire but expect.  A pivot had to occur in order to better embrace what we were attempting to develop visually within the archaeological environment.

In tandem with the traditional virtual archaeology approach to our longhouse research, two additional projects were started. Longhouse 2.1 explored more of the interactivity of the user within 3D gaming space and Longhouse 2.5 delved into the practical application of longhouse construction through the eyes of modern architects and architectural visualization.


One Reply to “Longhouse 1.75”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.