This has been an extremely busy week. Craig and I are now in high gear preparing for our first public showing of Longhouse 3.0 on October 13th during the Toronto Heritage Gala reception and then on October 23rd we are the opening speakers for the B3D Design Conference here in Toronto. Our session in 3D Design – Graphics and Storytelling will include gaming and 3D animation industry guru Athomas Goldberg and Mummiologist Dr. Andrew Nelson as we talk about the use of 3D environments for narrative and research.
For the Toronto Heritage event we will be running Longhouse 3.x in Unity 5 on two Alienware Laptops with Ocular Rift DK1 & DK2 headsets and Xbox 360 game controllers. All modelling was done in Autodesk Maya and Mudbox.
At the end of Longhouse 3.4, I posted the first of our Unity renders with the current Longhouse in the gaming/virtual reality environment. This was our first real test of porting the assets over from Maya and configuring the exterior lighting. A dummy background was used to give it placement within an environment and our test sky with horizon was added.
In addition to the environment, we repositioned the cedar bark inner wall sheets horizontally instead of vertically and made sure that each of the 3D bark sheets had their own unique composition. As you can see in the image above, you can make out the notion of gaps in the bark sheets. Again, we have no clue how the sheets were attached to the interior framing structure, but it has been suggested that bark cordage was used to tie off the sheets to each other and the superstructure. As cedar bark was used, which is considerably more pliable and lightweight, smaller gauge rope cordage could be used.
Walking through the doorway, we’re starting to get a feel for the immensity of the space which will fill up quickly with the centre fire hearth line, goods and people.We have been using Unity and the Ocular Rift glasses to do “site inspections” to check how the model is holding up in virtual space and to understand if we have missed any of the constant stylistic and research determined micro-changes we are making to the environment. On the top left post above, you can see the handprint textures and the detail on the rope cordage holding the bunking system together.
The centre roof line has been designed to allow for the smoke holes to move in response to Varley and Cannon’s 1994 research on changing fire hearth/pit positions within excavated longhouses. We are thinking that when the fire hearth below moved, the Iroquoian builders would just reposition the exterior bark shingles to allow for a new smoke hole and subsequently covered up the old one.
Below is our first real Unity 5 environment test. The test is directly out of Unity in preview mode, meaning that it hasn’t been fully built, rendered and baked into the Unity space. When the models, textures and effects are fully coded into the game engine, the visual quality and feedback will be substantially better. Obviously we have more models and assets to add and build, so the environment when finished will have a completely different feel. Lastly, this is a full VR walk-through captured as screen on screen.
Even in low resolution the first walkthrough raised more questions and observations. The images above are actually Craig walking in real-time around the longhouse. He’s wearing an Ocular Rift DK2 headset and using a Xbox 360 hand controller to move around, jump and do directional head movements.
The fire (a particle system) is sparking obviously way too much. I first thought, “this place is going to go up in flames” (like it would in Minecraft)! Our fire wood would not be stacked up and we would likely have to slightly animate logs shifting in the fire hearth as they brake down in the fire. We used Ron Williamson’s experimental archaeology adventure in a real longhouse (mentioned in Longhouse 3.3) as a basis to determine the fire hearth circumference of .6-.8m’s in diameter. However, the distance between the sleep births or even the sleeping space on the ground around the fire hearth looks dangerously minimal. At about 1.31 in the video, we “hop” over the fire in traditional gamer mode, but I noticed that even when following the archaeological data, the fire hearth seemed too close to the inner doorway.
The exterior environment is still in “basic” mode, but we’re trying to convey that the land surrounding the longhouse would likely have been well worn or even muddy at certain times of the years. We will likely bring a palisade wall into the mid-ground of the exterior shot just to enclose/constrain the longhouse vista a little more. Basic bird, wind and other effects sounds have been added and will need to be refined.
However it has been an excellent first test and should be a good indication of the minimal level of detail that can be achieved.
Lastly we are now starting to add the longhouse shingles. In Southwestern Ontario it has been suggested by Neal Ferris that White Elm would probably have been the predominate and suitable bark used for shingling the exterior of the longhouses. The grain would run horizontal to allow for easy discharge of any water running down the longhouse and they would likely be overlapping from the ground upwards. The traditional “turtle shell” look of overlapping layers seems the most logical approach and has been readily used throughout physical reconstruction of longhouses since the 1970’s.
Once the shingles are on the house, the only light that will penetrate the structure will be emanating from the exterior doorways, the smoke holes and any gaps between the bark shingles.
We used the image to the right from www.woodlandindianedu.com as inspiration for the White Elm 1x2m shingle. The texture maps help provide a geometry “bump”, which gives the impression the 3D model object is actually modelled bumpy. This technique allows us to render 3D assets and bake them into memory much faster, which improves the real-time interactivity.
It has been an exciting week to finally see the longhouse within VR space and to be able to walk around the structure. Please keep in mind we are always looking for comments, direction and opinions, so do not hesitate to leave a note.