October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Creating 3D Virtual Exhibitions

Otmar Moritsch, Technisches Museum Wien; Christian Derler and Sandra Murg, Joanneum Research, Austria


Digital contents in cultural heritage institutions has become more or less a standard nowadays and is used in various areas like web-pages, media stations at exhibitions, archives, libraries or similar institutions. Three-dimensional presentations of exhibitions, however, are rare and usually not systematically structured due to a distinct lack of didactic and usability strategies. There is yet no author/curator-friendly editor for developing such exhibitions.

To solve these problems, a prototype of an authoring tool called "media.editor" was created by the Technisches Museum Wien and Joanneum Research. Through a graphical user interface, even users with basic computer skills are able to develop complex exhibition spaces easily. The most common formats of arbitrary digital objects like texts, pictures, sounds, movies can be placed on maps that correspond to virtual rooms. Visitor interactions and guided tours can thus be modeled easily. This tool is now being used at the museum to create a 3D exhibition space of 100 virtual rooms which will then serve as a digital extension of the permanent exhibition "medien.welten".

Keywords: virtual exhibition, 3D, authoring tool, interactive, guided tours, cultural heritage information system

The media.editor


The media.editor is an authoring tool which allows the curator to position media objects (texts, images, videos, sound, etc.) into virtual rooms. Placing viewpoints and connecting them to form virtual tours is also one of the main functionalities of the software. Those tours allow the visitors to navigate through the virtual exhibition space just as the exhibitions designer intended them to.

As those exhibitions can of course be saved and re-opened, changes in the layout as well as updates to the media objects can easily be incorporated later on. An easy-to-use export mechanism allows the publishing of a finished exhibition with one single click.

Application Design Principles

  1. The software of the media.editor was developed having the following goals in mind:
  2. The editor should be easy-to-use
  3. The tool is tailor-made for the needs of a specific group of users – the curators
  4. No special technical know-how should be necessary to use the editor

These goals are reflected in several features of the media.editor. The user does not need to have technical skills, like programming or designing Web pages – i.e. no need to understand how to use HTML, XML, CSS, Flash, and the like. The typical user of the editor can concentrate on what they have really expertise in – designing exhibitions. This is due to the fact that the editor was developed in close cooperation with experts in museum exhibition design.

They were deeply involved in shaping the look-and-feel as well as the functionality of the tool. As this cooperation has been established right from the beginning of the software development process, the application is specifically tailored to fit their needs.

This results in the fact that the user for whom the tool is designed does not need to bother with a vast number of functions they would never need in practical work – an experience you often have when using standard general purpose authoring tools.

Technical Concepts

X3D is an ISO ratified standard for presenting three-dimensional content on the Web. It is the successor of the also ASCII based VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). Because of it using XML concepts such as nodes, children, properties and the like, it is relatively easy to use data input in any other form and transform this data into valid X3D by using stylesheets (XSLT Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation).

Those concepts allow the media.editor to congregate the information the curator gives for an exhibition. The information is transformed to X3D which can then be displayed using freely available players and browser plugins.

As X3D is a rather new standard, it is under constant development by experts, e.g. most notably the members of the Web 3D consortium (http://web3d.org) which watches the evolution of X3D. Of equal importance in pushing along the standardization process and usage of X3D might be the IEEE association (http://www.ieee.org).

The application is based on Java and the Eclipse framework, which allows for platform independence. There are versions available for Windows (XP and Vista) as well as Mac OS X. By using the Graphical Editing Framework an easy to use user interface has been created. It is offering several windows with tabs for the various properties as well as a drawing area which provides a bird’s eye view perspective of a virtual room.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Screenshot of the application.

Usage Concepts

When working with the media.editor you always look at your virtual exhibition rooms as being part of a certain project. You can create, modify, save and open projects. A project contains one or more rooms. Unlike physical rooms a virtual room is not defined by walls. A virtual room only limits the space you have available to place exhibits.

A viewpoint can be understood as a camera. Using viewpoints makes your objects visible. Viewpoints can be connected to create virtual tours within your room.

A repository defines the location of your media files. The repository path will be the starting point for your content. Once you have defined a repository with its path you can load files into the content tab. Those files can then be used for your exhibits. Currently, these formats can be used for objects in 3D rooms: JPEG, PNG, BMP for images, MP3, and WAV for audio, and MPEG Layer 1, AVI, AVI DIVX, MPG, WMV for video. The number of supported media formats largely depends on the formats that are currently supported by the used version of the X3D player. This number might increase with further versions of the player.

The exhibition editor allows creating multiple language versions of your exhibition. You define objects and then assign the appropriate media to them. The media have to be tagged accurately in the language field of the content tab.

Copyright and credit information can be added to the media items within your exhibition. This information is also managed in the content tab using the Copyright Info field.

You can use flat objects or cylindrical objects for your exhibits. Flat objects will be used mainly as images can easily be shown this way. Cylindrical objects require special images like panorama shots or similar. Viewpoints can also be placed inside a cylinder (panorama object).

Certain actions can be assigned to objects. Those can be links to other viewpoints, rooms, or even HTTP resources. They can be reached by clicking on the object (or touching them if you have a touch screen). Actions can also be used to start or stop media files (audio or video) when the user reaches a certain point in the exhibition.

A sound object has three properties defining its volume. Intensity sets the maximum volume of the sound. It can range from 0 to 1 (0% to 100%). The constant intensity radius sets the radius around the sound object where the volume is constantly at maximum level. The decreasing intensity radius defines the radius where the volume decreases from maximum to zero.

How To Use It

When you open the editor you will want to create either a new project or a new room within an existing project. After creating a room we can change its properties. When the room is selected the tab labeled “Properties” will list all available properties. The properties are organized in a tree view. “Ambient sound” enables you to assign a sound file which will be played in a loop as long as the room is shown (in a browser or the preview). “Intensity” defines the volume of this sound. General properties are the name of the room and the visibility factor. Changing the visibility range will result in the objects getting harder to see the farer you move away. The size of the room defines its borders on the drawing area - note: there won't be any walls shown.

After you have defined a repository, you can create objects in a room by double clicking the room so that the Drawing Area will show up. With the tools located in the “Palette” you can place exhibits and viewpoints in the room. Your cursor will change and show a small plus sign. Clicking anywhere in the drawing area will “drop” the empty exhibit there. By creating an empty exhibit standard values will be used for width and height properties. You can assign the appropriate media file to the exhibit by dragging the representation of the file from the “Content” tab into the tab labeled “Exhibit Content”. Alternatively, you can drag media files onto the “stage”. Images will be resized in relation to their original size. You are free to change the properties of your exhibits later.

Of course, you can move, copy and paste objects, select multiple objects using the marquee tool, scale and turn objects.

To drop a viewpoint onto the “Drawing Area” select the icon with the green arrow from the palette and then click wherever you want the viewpoint to be. To simulate movement respectively navigation from one object to another you have to connect the viewpoints. From the palette select “connection”. The cursor will change to show a plug at the lower right corner. Click on the viewpoint you want to use as the starting point of the tour. The cursor will get connected to the viewpoint with a thin line. Click on the next viewpoint and this line will form the connection between these two viewpoints. When viewing the room with the preview you can now navigate between the viewpoints.

With actions you can assign special functionalities to viewpoints and exhibits. Actions are triggered when the user clicks on the object or when a viewpoint is reached. You can assign actions in the outline view of a room. Valid actions are e.g. “Play exhibit”, “Stop exhibit”, “Goto viewpoint”, “Goto room”, “Goto URL”, “Pause ambient sound”, “Resume ambient sound”, “Interrupt ambient sound”. In order to get a file out of your project, which can be “played” by an X3D player, you have to export it by clicking the export icon in the project tab.

What The Result Looks Like - The Media.Show Client

X3D files can generally be viewed with various players on a standalone basis as well as within a Web browser with certain plugins. After thorough evaluation of what was available at the time of developing the editor, the Flux Player by Media Machines was chosen. The transformation currently implemented into the export mechanism relies on this player and caters for special functions supported by this player.

When an X3D file is viewed within a Web browser it is possible to interact with the shown scene by using JavaScript. This allows for various additions to the experience. Navigation between viewpoints can be achieved as well as sharing information about media files and the identification of rooms. With this information richer applications are possible, e.g. the room could change depending on user selection. User behavior could also be tracked and sent to a database by JavaScript. Those additional functions however are not covered by the editor, but by changing HTML and JavaScript files.

figure 2
Figure 2: The HTML client displaying X3D and custom navigation


At the Technisches Museum Wien the media.editor is currently used to set up a virtual exhibition space as an extension of the permanent exhibition medien.welten. This extension presents an illustrated multimedia media history based on a time-theme matrix that can be accessed via computer terminals. The matrix includes ten media themes whose development and relevance can be studied throughout ten different eras from the 18th century to the Digital Age. Each of the altogether 100 elements of the matrix is introduced by texts and multimedia presentations in a 3D exhibition space. The chessboard-like matrix-structure offers the possibility to cross-read the texts by themes, or to read the texts following the chronological time-line. Each element is represented by one 3D room in which the user can explore a particular theme of media history. With the help of defined viewpoints the user can easily walk through the selected room simply by clicking “forward” or “backward”. The virtual exhibition space is not meant to be a 3D-replica of museum display rooms. Instead, it opens up a whole landscape of texts, pictures, sounds and video clips, through which the user can stroll, pause and look about freely.


IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., http://www.ieee.org

Moritsch, O. (2005), Media Stories: an integrative storytelling in physical and virtual spaces. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.) Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2005. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2005/papers/moritsch/moritsch.html

Moritsch, O. & Pensold, W. (2006), Virtual dimensions of the medien.welten. At the International Conference “An Expedition to European Digital Cultural Heritage“. Salzburg, 2006. http://dhc2006.salzburgresearch.at/images/stories/info/en/otmar_moritsch.pdf

Web3D Consortium, Open Standards for Real-Time 3D Communication, http://web3d.org

Cite as:

Moritsch, O., et al., Creating 3D Virtual Exhibitions , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/moritsch/moritsch.html