info @ archimuse.com
published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010
A Virtual Interactive Art Gallery
This project is part of Project GEIRA, and it is supported
by FCT, Fundação para a Ciencia e Tecnologia, and
program Interreg II from FEDER.
Providing access through the Internet to a 3D environment
of an Art Gallery is just one of the components of this project.
This project has three major components. The first
provides a 3D interactive editor for the gallery staff to help
them previewing the disposition of the art objects in the gallery.
With the help of the editor the gallery's staff can arrange not
only the art objects, but also the lighting, sound, and some other
details. A second component brings the virtual exhibition to the
Web, with the virtual and the real exhibitions opening at the
same time. The Web exhibition attempts to resemble as much as
possible the real one, including sound conditions and the lighting
according to the current time.
It is however the third component of this project
which is perhaps the most innovative: this is an interactive exhibition
builder for the Web which provides net surfers the possibility
to build their own exhibition. With this simulator the user will
be able select the art objects to include amongst a selection
from the gallery, or their own work, and their disposition, the
lighting conditions including the number of lights, their position,
orientation and intensity. Sound is also contemplated providing
the user with the ability to change the ambient music. The users
can then submit their own exhibition to the gallery for appreciation.
The main goal of this component of the project is to bring the
gallery closer to the community. Furthermore, this component allows
the Art Gallery to open a "Exhibition Designer" competition for
net surfers in which they would submit their own exhibition for
appreciation. The selected virtual exhibition could then be replicated
as a real one.
This project started
out as a modeling experiment of a real Art Gallery using VRML 2.0
so that it could be seen on the Internet.
VRML stands for Virtual Reality Modeling Language.
This denomination can be misleading in the sense that Virtual Reality
is usually associated with immersive systems which is not necessarily
the case with VRML. Furthermore, the modeling primitives in VRML
are not comparable in extent and flexibility to those present in
3D modeling packages.
VRML is mainly a language which allows one to define
a 3D world to be viewed on the Internet with real time navigation.
Currently on version 2.0, besides providing modeling capabilities,
VRML also provides primitives for interaction as well as defining
The shortage of graphical primitives in VRML 2.0
when compared to commercial 3D packages is due to the real time
navigation feature in a 3D scene, i.e. only those primitives which
were fast enough were included. Also some graphical primitive's
features usually found in 3D packages to provide a high degree of
realism were simplified for performance's sake.
Performance is therefore a main issue when modeling
3D worlds with VRML. The performance problem is increased by the
fact that, due to the availability of this project on the Internet,
the 3D models can be viewed in a wide range of hardware architectures,
from slow to super fast computers. There had to be a possibility
for those with slower machines to enjoy the 3D model, and at the
same time, for the better equipped ones, to take advantage of the
faster hardware configurations. Some of the solutions found are
presented in section 3.
Although we tried to build a model which was as realistic
as possible, at the same time we enjoyed the freedom of building
a virtual world. Extending reality to provide multiple exhibitions
was one of the options explored. In order to achieve this an 8 floor
building was created, in each floor a different exhibition is presented.
An elevator was added to the model, replacing the real door, to
allow the user to travel between floors. This is described in more
detail in section 4.
Another objective of this project was to provide
information to the user in a non textual way. The visual and audio
clues defined not only provide information about the timetable,
and the time of day but also enhance the realism of the virtual
model. See section 5 for more details on this.
The project, once concluded, is to be delivered to
the Gallery staff. Therefore the process of creating a new Exhibition
has to be as intuitive as possible, just like hanging paintings
on a wall. The purpose of the Exhibition manager is two fold: to
allow the Gallery staff to build their own virtual exhibitions for
the web, and also to help the staff to build the real exhibition.
To create an Exhibition an hybrid application using
with the information and exact positioning of the paintings and
spotlights to be included in an exhibition, whereas the VRML allows
the visual positioning of these items interactively in the gallery
model. This process is described in detail in section 6.
Finally we proposed ourselves, and the Gallery staff,
a last challenge: to allow the gallery visitors to build their own
exhibitions, using only an Internet browser with a VRML plug-in.
Exhibitions can be built either using a pre-selected set of paintings
from the Gallery, or with the visitor's own paintings or photos.
In the later case, the only requirement to build an exhibition is
to have the paintings or photos available on the Internet. This
will allow the Gallery to open an "Exhibition Designer" contest
for net surfers in which they could submit their own exhibition
for appreciation. The selected virtual exhibition could then be
replicated in a real one. Furthermore, this can be used to promote
young and less know painters or photographers which would otherwise
have no possibility to have a real exhibition at the gallery. This
last component of the project is presented in section 7.
Conclusions and further work are presented in section
This project will soon be available at http://www.geira.pt/mns/
The Gallery (toc)
Our initial approach was to use a commercial 3D package
with the ability to export to VRML for the modeling task. This approach
turned out to be frustrating for two reasons:
- The VRML file size was huge when compared to
a rough estimation of the file size needed to do the modeling
from scratch in VRML.
- Adding interactivity later on proved to be
quite difficult because we had to gain previous understanding
of the structure of the automatically generated file in order
to see how to program the required actions.
For instance consider the spotlight model we included
in the gallery. Below a VRML and a commercial 3D package versions
are presented, see figure 1.
figure 1. Two versions of a lamp model. The
left one was done in a commercial 3D package, the one on the
right was done in a text editor.
The commercial package version translated the model
into a VRML file with more than 23k as opposed to 1k for the version
created in a text editor. Furthermore, the commercial package
version uses 672 polygons, whereas the version created by hand
uses only 49 polygons.
The above example clearly shows that exporting
to VRML is not always a good option. The file size has direct
implications not only on the download time but in some cases,
as in the example above, also on the number of defined polygons.
For the above reasons this approached was abandoned.
A specific VRML editor was also considered, but if animation and
interaction is to be added to the model then the currently freely
available editors for PC's known to us were not also up to the
The interior of the building where the real exhibitions
take place is quite geometric and simple, see figure 2. Although,
as mentioned before, the graphical primitives in VRML are simplified
versions of those present in 3D packages, they were sufficient
to easily create a model of the interior of the gallery. Therefore
we decided to create everything in VRML without the help of any
graphical editors, just with a text editor.
figure 2. A detail from the virtual gallery
Reality - Displaying Multiple Exhibitions (toc)
The modeling process is relatively straightforward
as far as the interior's architecture is concerned. However adding
spotlights to the model involves some important considerations.
The VRML specification requires VRML browsers to be able to display
a minimum number of 8 simultaneous lights. Currently most browsers
do only the bare minimum to comply for performance reasons. Some
engineering was required to define the light's properties and
positioning so that 8 lights sufficed.
The main issue is however related to the way VRML
treats light. The VRML lighting model is a gross approximation
of the real world lighting. The adopted model emerged from a compromise
between realistic rendering and speed, with a strong bias towards
speed. For instance shadows and reflections were not contemplated
in the adopted lighting model. Fortunately shadows and reflections
were not critical in our model.
Understanding the way the lighting of a polygon
is computed is critical to modeling in VRML. From a theoretical
point of view, the VRML specification defines a lighting model
which requires lighting to be computed for each pixel. However,
with this lighting model and today's hardware, performance would
decrease drastically. In order to cope with standard hardware
configurations the majority of the current VRML implementations
only compute lighting for each vertex of a polygon. The lighting
for the remaining pixels of the polygon is computed as an average
of the vertex lighting computations.
The implemented lighting model implies that for
a particular polygon if no vertices are lit then the whole polygon
is unlit. This has major implications in the way the spotlights
lit the walls and paintings. If a spotlight is pointing at the
center of a wall, and if the light cone does not include any vertices,
then the whole wall will be unlit. In order to solve this problem
either the angle of the light cone is increased or the wall is
constructed as a set of tiled polygons. The former solution is
unrealistic in the sense that real spotlights usually do not have
a large enough aperture so that a vertex of the wall is lit. The
latter solution on the other hand, while providing a more realistic
lighting effect, has the disadvantage of increasing the number
of computations required to compute the lighting factor, thereby
slowing down performance.
figure 3. Different levels of lighting detail
for two walls built built using tiled polygons
Figure 2 shows the lighting effect of a spotlight
on two tiled walls. The smaller the tiles, the smoother the effect.
In order to provide a more realistic approach we
implemented the later model, where each wall is build using a
number of tiled polygons. This model turned out to be very demanding
on the hardware, requiring a medium high level computer according
to today's standards. To allow net surfers with medium low end
hardware configurations to visit the gallery a lighter version,
where each wall is a single polygon, was also implemented. In
this version the lighting is not as realistic, on the other hand
it provides a smoother real-time navigation, allowing more modest
hardware configurations to be able to cope with the computational
We wanted to have both the realistic and the simpler
model online. We did not want to deprive users with high end hardware
configurations of the more realistic model, on the other hand
we wanted less equipped users to be able to enjoy the gallery's
virtual environment. Figures 4 and 5 show
the different renderings obtained.
figure 4. The low level of detail version
figure 5. The high level of detail version
However we did not want to have the users deciding
before they entered the gallery, for instance to make an option
in a HTML page before actually entering the museum. Defining recommended
hardware configurations for each version is difficult due to the
number of hardware parameters involved like main processor, graphic
cards and memory, not to mention the subjectiveness of the concept
of smooth real-time navigation. Furthermore, we wanted to stick
to 3D as much as possible. The approach taken was to have a light
switch in the gallery to allow the visitor to switch between the
two implemented models and choose the more appropriate for the
visitor's hardware configuration in an interactive way. The device
switches from one version to the other instantly, thereby allowing
one to decide in real-time which version is more suitable to enjoy
Another performance problem appeared when we started
adding pictures to the Exhibition. VRML has a nice texture treatment
with a considerable set of features and options to manipulate
textures. However textures are performance killers. The higher
the number of textures the slower and jerkier the navigation.
The first action to deal with this problem was
to reduce the file size for each picture. This doesn't sacrifice
the quality of the pictures because the VRML window is relatively
small to allow for smooth real-time motion.
The second measure was to remove the texture from
the walls of the gallery. The walls of the real gallery are painted
but have a textured effect, so we did detach the model from reality.
Nevertheless the difference is almost unnoticeable and the gain
in performance clearly makes it worth while.
It may seem that removing a single texture, when
there are roughly 12-15 paintings in each exhibition would not
affect the performance significantly. However the real time motion
smoothness has to do with the number of textures which are visible
from the current viewpoint, and not with the total number of textures.
The wall was almost always visible, whereas, in average, there
are only about 2 or 3 pictures in view at any time. Removing the
wall texture therefore consisted of removing a quarter to a third
of the number of visible textures in average. Furthermore the
wall's area is much larger than the paintings area, which means
that in average there were more pixels with the wall's texture
than with the painting's textures.
There is no reason to limit the use of the gallery's
3D model to show just the current exhibition. One of the advantages
of computer graphics is that once they are done multiple instances
can be easily created. Therefore its only natural that one would
use the model created to provide more than an exhibition. Possible
candidates for this purpose are past exhibitions. There was also
a request from the gallery staff: to use the gallery for their ancient
photo collections, three photo collections from Braga, a city in
Portugal, in the early century, the 30's and the 50's. These collections
are not available to the public, so the virtual gallery was a suitable
way to present these works which otherwise wouldn't be know to the
Visual and Audio Clues to Provide Information and Enhance Realism
Other possible candidates are exhibitions which
can't take place in the real gallery due to its tight schedule,
presently the gallery has already exhibitions scheduled up to
the year 2000, that's 2 years from now! Previews of real exhibitions
are also on the list of possible uses for virtual exhibitions.
Traditionally the exhibition selection would be
done in a 2D HTML page, with links to the several exhibitions.
However, as mentioned before, we wanted to stick to 3D as much
as possible. One could have a control panel somewhere inside the
gallery with buttons to switch between exhibitions. This option
was dismissed because it was too 2D like, not taking advantage
of the freedom provided by 3D. We wanted to provide a true 3D
The approach taken had a clear and intentional
departure from reality. An elevator was created, in the same location
where the door is in the real gallery, which would allow the user
to travel between exhibitions. In this way we used the freedom
provided by 3D modeling to create a virtual 8 floor building to
present multiple exhibitions. Figure 6 provides
a skeleton of the virtual building.
The floor organization is as follows:
figure 6. A Skeleton of the Virtual Building
The elevator was modeled to resemble a real elevator,
both in appearance, see figures 7 and 8, as in behavior. Inside
the elevator there are 8 buttons, just like in a real elevator,
one for each floor, plus a button to close and open the doors. The
doors are transparent to provide the movement sensation of a real
- 3 bottom floors, one for each of the ancient
photo collections. These floors were placed underground to emphasize
the notion of a deposit, as mentioned before the photo collections
are not available to the public;
- The ground floor, which is the entrance to
the virtual gallery, contains the current exhibition.
- The other 4 floors can be used at will by the
gallery staff, for instance to display past exhibitions or to
present virtual only exhibitions.
figure 7. View from Inside the Elevator
figure 8. View from Outside the Elevator
Some care has been put in order to have the virtual
elevator's behavior as similar as possible to a real elevator.
Some of the elevator's implemented behaviors are as follows:
- When the user gets in the elevator the doors
- Once the elevator arrives at a floor the doors
- When the user leaves the elevator the doors
- The button corresponding to the current floor
is highlighted to help the user to keep track of his/her position
in the virtual building.
For optimization reasons and to avoid keeping the
user waiting for the download of all the exhibitions, only the paintings
of the current exhibition are loaded initially. When the user goes
to the elevator and presses a floor button the paintings of the
respective exhibition are loaded. This may create a delay when the
user arrives at a floor because there may be no paintings available
at the moment. Nevertheless, in the worst case, when the user visits
all exhibitions, the sum of the delays each time the user enters
a floor for the first time will be equal to the delay required to
download all the exhibitions initially. Furthermore the initial
delay will be much shorter than if all the exhibitions were to download
when the user enters the virtual gallery.
This was a challenging part of this project. The objective
was to take advantage of being in a 3D environment to provide information
resorting to visual and audio clues instead of direct or textual
ways while at the same time enhancing the realism of the scene.
Exhibition Manager for the Gallery Staff (toc)
The first task was to let the user know if the
gallery was open or closed during the visit. The first approach
was to put the timetable text somewhere inside the gallery. This
would be a direct textual way of providing the information to
the user. This approach was abandoned because this kind of presentation
fits much better in a 2D HTML page than it would in a 3D environment.
We adopted the local gallery time instead of the
visitors local time, so if someone is visiting from Canada at
7 am the visitor will find the gallery open because the local
time is at least 3 hours later, depending on where in Canada the
visit comes from.
To provide this information we resorted to the
window shades. When the gallery closes the shades are closed as
well. Note that the shades are only translated, not rotated, so
the visitor can still see the street in front of the museum through
the two large windows.
The closing and opening of the window shades occurs
when the gallery closes or opens, respectively, independently
of the time the visitor entered the site and the duration of the
visit. This was achieved using the TimeSensor provided by VRML
to implement a real-time clock.
Because the gallery has two large windows to the
street it is usual to see people looking inside when the gallery
is closed. The real shades are only fully closed, thereby not
allowing one to look inside, 3 hours after the closing of the
gallery to the public. The model also implemented this behavior,
rotating the shades and blocking the view to the street at the
same time the real shades are fully closed. Again this approach
was preferred to having a textual information somewhere in the
3D model. Figure 9 shows the different positions
for the shades.
figures 9. The three positions for the shades
Furthermore different pictures, taken at different
times of day, were used as textures for the window views, thereby
providing a more realistic environment inside the gallery. The lighting
used to simulate the light coming from the exterior through the
two large windows is also decreased at night, and reduced to zero
when the shades are fully closed to enhance the realism of the virtual
Finally, there is a church just in front of the
gallery. We thought that adding the chimes would be a nice touch
to enhance this virtual experience. Therefore, using the timer
defined previously for the shades, we set the chimes to play at
each quarter of an hour, and at the hours. We could have provided
a clock, either digital or with hands, to provide local time information
to those visiting from outside Continental Portugal.
Adding a clock however would imply to add elements
which are not present in the real gallery without enhancing the
mood of the scene. The chimes, together with the window views
and the shades, on the other hand help to set the mood of the
real gallery, with temporal information being provided as a side
To help the gallery staff to create the exhibitions,
an exhibition manager is provided, along with an exhibition editor
to allow in a practical and intuitive way the design of an exhibition,
i.e. the placement of the paintings, lighting, and sound.
Paintings to an Exhibition (toc)
An exhibition is primarily defined by a name. Some
additional information may be provided, namely a background image
and text colors to be used for the automatically generated 2D
exhibitions, and music for sound sources existent in the 3D exhibition.
As images are necessary to represent the paintings
(and eventually other art forms), they are an important part of
the information needed to create an exhibition. In order to ease
the task of specifying the location of the images used, a special
"image warehouse" is consulted, and paintings are added to the new
exhibition by moving each image found to a WWW site containing all
the exhibitions. This implies that the only images existing in the
warehouse are the ones which can be used to create the exhibition.
the paintings interactively (toc)
The next step in creating an exhibition is setting
up the placement of the artwork and lighting.
Object/Placeholder Paradigm (toc)
This is accomplished by providing a 3D interactive
model of the gallery in which the user can use drag and drop techniques
to move objects around, taking some constraints into account,
complemented with input forms which allow exact positioning of
To specify the constraints applied to the objects,
the concept of placeholder is defined. Each type of object can only
be placed in the respective type of placeholder. For instance, paintings
can only be placed on walls and spotlights on ceiling gutters, see
figure 10. Spotlight in the gutter
Management and Information (toc)
These placeholders are always considered to be
rectangular portions of a plane, so objects can only dragged in
a two-dimensional way, within the dimensions of the placeholder.
The object orientation is independent of its position in the placeholder.
This generic approach allows defining different
object/placeholder pairs. Some have already been mentioned: painting/wall,
spotlight/gutter. Others can be defined, for instance statue/floor.
Apart from the position and orientation of objects,
each particular kind of object has additional information, like
spotlights’ intensity or paintings names, author and dimensions.
This information can be changed in appropriate forms of the exhibition
editor, along with facilities for creating and removing objects
and changing the placeholder where they are placed.
As mentioned before, two interfaces for placing
the objects are provided. With the interactive 3D interface, the
exhibition designer can move the paintings within the walls in
which they are placed by dragging the mouse over the former. One
can also drag the base of a spotlight along the gutter, and rotate
the lamp in order to point it wherever one wishes, in a realistic
figure 11. Visual Editor
The visual interface, see figure 11, has however
a limitation inherent to this type of interfaces, the accurate
placement of the objects is hard to accomplish. The exact positioning
of objects can be required for some exhibitions. To workaround
this limitation, the position of an object can also be controlled
in the respective object information form, see figure 12, by directly
changing the values, using keyboard input, that define the relevant
information, for instance <x, y> position of paintings or spotlight
Your Own Exhibition (toc)
These two interfaces are interconnected so that
changes on one of them are automatically reflected on the other,
in order to ensure consistency and enable the preview of the exhibition.
Also to maintain consistency, no object is allowed to move outside
the limits of its placeholder.
This is what we consider the most challenging part
of the project: to allow internet surfers to build their own exhibitions.
The degree of interaction present on a tour in a three-dimensional
exhibition is high. Allowing users over the net to build an exhibition
themselves goes far beyond that.
the Artworks and Information (toc)
Besides providing for little known or resourceless
artists a virtual space for presenting their own work, it also
allows the promotion of exhibition contests: the winner would
be able to see its virtual exhibition become real within the gallery
walls. These contests could be made with art previously exhibited
in the gallery, or original work from the exhibitor.
By letting ordinary users build their own exhibition
the problem of where the resources needed for the exhibition should
be located arises. In order to build an exhibition the images of
the works must be available on the Internet. This would be a major
restriction a few years ago, however presently with so many sites
providing free web space this requirement is no longer a limitation.
Using a set of forms similar to those defined for
the gallery's own exhibition builder, the user can add paintings
to his/her exhibition by providing the url of the respective image,
plus the information about the works to be displayed.
The user can create an exhibition in as many sessions
as required. Images and respective properties can be added, removed
or altered at any time during the construction of the exhibition.
The same goes for the spotlights and music.
When the exhibition is concluded it can be submitted
to the gallery for approval.
Due to the number of users that can have access to
this kind of service, some security measures must be taken. These
measures aim mainly to assure the following three points:
& Further Work (toc)
- no user can modify another user's exhibition;
- no exhibition can be visited by anyone besides
the creator and the gallery staff until the staff approves it;
- after the approval by the gallery staff an
exhibition can't be altered by anyone, even the author;
- the images and sounds must be available on
the internet during the time the exhibition is made available.
To achieve the first goal, each user is assigned an
identifier and a password. The password authenticates the user,
and the identifier is then used to reference his work.
The second goal is a very important one, since
the gallery cannot be associated with any kind of activities other
than cultural. As the real exhibitions must meet some requirements,
so do the virtual ones. Being so, a user can create and edit an
exhibition at will, in several sessions if he wants, but for the
exhibition to be available to the web community, he must submit
a request for evaluation. If the staff considers the exhibition
to be appropriate, it classifies it as such.
The third point guarantees that the exhibition
that the staff approved is the one which is made available on
the internet. It is imperative that the user must be prevented
to alter the exhibition without the prior consent of the gallery
staff to prevent content replacement, otherwise there is always
the possibility that the new contents of the exhibition don't
meet with the gallery staff's approval. If the creator wishes
to change the exhibition at a later time, he must submit a request
to the gallery, which will reverse the process, making the exhibition
unavailable to the public and open to modifications.
The fourth point is equally important, an exhibition
without images is just an empty building.
In order to comply with the third and fourth requirements,
once the exhibition is approved by the gallery staff, all the
images and sounds are copied to the gallery's Web server. In this
way not only is their availability guaranteed, but also the contents
are not replaceable.
Looking back at the project as a whole, modeling was
probably the easiest part once the performance problems and VRML
limitation were identified and dealt with.
However this project is not exclusively about modeling,
it has to do with exploring the potential of 3D to provide an
environment where, although reality is kept to a certain extent,
it is also augmented to provide options which are not available
on the real gallery. Our attempt to achieve this was through the
use of an elevator that allows visitors to visit not only the
real exhibition but also past or completely virtual exhibitions.
Providing visual and audio clues for the gallery
visitors in a non direct and non textual way was also attempted
using chimes and different window views instead of a real clock,
and using the shades instead of a textual timetable.
The exhibition manager was probably the hardest
part; we wanted to provide an intuitive interface both for the
staff museum and for net visitors to ease the process of creating
an exhibition. This tool also helps the Gallery staff to create
virtual exhibitions to preview the position of the paintings for
the real exhibition.
Allowing net surfers to build their own exhibition
is definitely the boldest part of this project. Using this feature
the Gallery can provide opportunities for young and less known
painters or photographers to show their work to the community.
Also the possibility of having an "Exhibition Designer" competition
can help bringing the Gallery closer to the community.
Bringing the community closer to the Gallery is
what this project is about. The objective in modeling the Gallery
in 3-D and presenting several exhibitions simultaneously is twofold:
first to arise interest in those which can visit the real exhibition
and have them visiting the real Gallery more often; secondly to
eliminate geographical barriers allowing those that can't visit
the real Gallery to appreciate the art work, which otherwise they
wouldn't have the chance, in a richer environment than a simple
2D HTML page.
This project can be further expanded to provide
an even richer environment. For instance the gallery sometimes
has exhibitions with statues, and other 3D pieces. This is an
important issue that leads to some research in the area of 3D
scanning. 3D artworks could use the floor as placeholder and allow
the orientation of the piece by controlling only the rotation
of the vertical axis or optionally any of the three axes, although
this later option maybe neither necessary nor practical).
An alternative to the 3D scanning of an object
would be mapping a panorama of the object over a cylindrical or
spherical surface. A panorama is composed of several images taken
around the object at different angles of fixed intervals. Those
images can then be "stitched" together to provide one single image
of the object all around or become frames which are changed depending
on the position of the observer. Depending on the surface used,
the panorama could be made in one or more axes.
Another possible enhancement would be to create
a multi-user 3D world inside the gallery, so that people could
enjoy the art works and simultaneously exchange ideas and opinions
about it with each other. The author of the paintings or photos
could provide a live worldwide presentation of his/her work and
discuss it with the gallery's visitors.
A virtual character could be created to guide visitors
through the exhibition, providing the author's view of the paintings.
Extra virtual worlds could be created to provide information and
mood for each painting.
The possibilities are endless and only limited
by the imagination...and the hardware, and the bandwidth...
VRML Interavtive Tutorial, available online.
The Annotated VRML Reference Book, available online.
"Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice", Foley,
van Dam, Feiner and Hughes, Addison Wesley, 1996.
Last modified: March 14, 1998. This file can
be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
Send questions and comments to email@example.com