Craig and I are midway through finishing the exterior and have been preplanning for the additional assets that will be added in order to populate the longhouses. In Film & Television production we call these assets “props”, which act as tools to enhance the emotions or phenomenological experience of the viewer in a particular scene or environment. These assets also help to engage the participant by giving the viewer multiple areas to explore visually and hopefully in our case, through virtual physical interaction.
One of the biggest issues with previous examples of heritage reconstruction within virtual reality has been the clean, sterile environments that are typical of early attempts at 3D. The lack of associated objects which would normally be within a certain context, the dirty, grimy textures of everyday life and the environmental elements such as dust, rain and natural sunlight all play an enormous role that helps convey a narrative whether interactive or not. These visual cues suggest that the reconstruction is just not about the structures itself, but the entire context in which the archaeological landscape lives.
Traditionally a “vision board” or similar technique is used as research for the artists who are visualizing the environment in which the participant viewer will occupy within the 3D space. Multiple elements are considered and for our purposes I’ve broken those elements down to key areas, everyday living activities and props that will enhance the overall feel as well as generate more research questions. Again the oral histories are scarce and the only substantial historical accounts are from Eurocentric Jesuit Fathers and New World adventurers. Any visuals that exist today are in essence, a romanticized, European visualization of longhouse life. Any visuals that do exist from time of contact are in typical 16th century sketch form and highly stylized and romanticized.
Essentially we will be gleaning imagery that will be interpretations of interpretations, with ours being yet another semi-educated guess based on the archaeological information available and the artistic mindset that we ourselves bring with us.
I would envision a longhouse as being both a massive storage and living area, empty and quiet in the warmer months but heavily populated in the winter. I’m heavily influenced by the movie Black Robe. Although I haven’t seen it in its entirety since the 1990’s but I was struck by the cramped, smokey, grimy and heavily goods and people laden communal living environment the movie portrayed. One would assume this vision would be close to the normal living conditions as up to 32 or more people could have occupied an 8 bunk or 24m long, longhouse.Starting with the interior rafters, drying supplies such as corn, bark cordage, furs, skins, tobacco, herbs, meat, fish and other goods that the inhabitants didn’t want ground dwelling vermin to attack would be hung in abundance for the long winters storage.
All the images above are modern (20th Century) artist renditions with the three images on the right hand side actual longhouse reconstructions. I particularly like the top and bottom right images as they really start to convey what the atmosphere of the longhouse environment would be like.
The next vision board was dedicated to the cooking and heating hearths, food supplies and other household items. The images are a mix of Iroquois and Iroquoian replicated goods and longhouse interiors. As far as I can find to date, there are no visual reproductions of Iroquoian goods dating from the 16th-19th Century with only images of 20th Century replicate items. I should also state that my particular study is in longhouse visual and phenomenological reconstruction and not other areas of Iroquoian life such as ceramics. So I’m going to endeavor to ensure we have Iroquoian examples of pottery modeled and placed within the 3D reconstruction, but if the dates are out on the ceramics we model, please just let me know.
Corn, squash, nuts, berries and other plants and tubers were part of the Iroquoian diet at different times of the year, with a mixture of fish and game meat making up the daily intake. Cooking those items ranged from a large pot of boiling water or broth to using flat rocks to bake or fry. Roasting spits are usually depicted, but again the histories are scarce on what the cooking areas actually looked like. We assume based on some archaeological excavations that there was a shallow pit, ringed by stones in which embers and slow burning fires were kept. Some suggest there were separate cooking fires away from the heating hearths, however all were roughly aligned down the middle of the longhouse floor.
Bark and wood was heavily used for storage and cooking utensils. In the image above, these are examples of early 18th Century Iroquoian/Iroquois storage and water containers. Most are made out of pliable birch bark while there are some modern version of what a bark or reed weaved basked might look like. Bowls and spoons were made out of wood. In the rounded vestibules at the entrance of the longhouses there would have been larger bark caskets to hold grains, corn and other items such as apples or squash.
Under the bunks would be the supplies of smaller firewood, with the larger pieces stored in the vestibules. Visually we have to remember that the firewood itself wouldn’t have been cleanly cut as the tools would have still been stone at this point, so I’m envisioning a considerable amount of broken branches, twigs and rotting trunks that would make up the daily supplies of wood fuel.For our virtual experience we have chosen to represent one single longhouse and it’s interior. However the exterior longhouse and village environment has to be represented in some manner. The images above again show stylized 20th Century reproductions of Iroquoian villages and environment. Perfect palisades, organized longhouses and clean and green ground throughout the village. I suspect like any well-used environment, grass or organic growth was worn down or non-existent. Plant growth would have occurred in spots where there was less human traffic, such as long the edges of longhouses or out of the direct path from one destination to another. Racks for drying fish and game, skins and furs would have likely populated the area as well as storage, refuse and maybe latrine pits? As we are intentionally limiting access to the broader virtual environment beyond our single longhouse, the sky, tree-line, possible palisade and other dummy longhouses will act as a backdrop for now until we move onto populating the environment with various types of virtual longhouses.
Lastly, we have intentionally avoided representing Iroquoian and especially Neutral Native Americans in 3D. Representing and characterizing people from different cultures or even pre-historical times is wrought with problems, especially since any European historical account would be highly racially subjective. Craig and I have talked at length about how to represent the mass of people within a longhouse, without imposing any stereotypes ourselves. One method would be to have greyed anamorphic human characters, with no distinguishing details represent the physical space Iroquoian inhabitants would have occupied within the longhouse. Another option would be to work with the descendent Iroquoian artists and leaders to build characters that would be representative of the peoples of that time similar to what was done for Assassin’s Creed III. However I would like to see a training program developed to allow for Native gamers to build their own stories, characters and environments providing not only 3D assets but a rich set of narrative games based on their own histories, myths and legends.
So as you can see, the assets we intend to use within the virtual longhouse is a mix of modern stylized imagery and a broad set of assumptions on our behalf. However, by attempting to populate what would be a sterile 3D environment with objects, effects and atmospherics, the virtual space becomes more lively, realistic and potentially representative.