Virtual Reality Hits the Humanities!

Unveiled at the Information Society Technologies exhibition in Nice, France, 6th November 2000 is a new virtual reality (VR) tool for teaching and researching the subject of Theatre Studies. Produced by the THEATRON Consortium and part-funded by the European Commission, this is the first serious attempt to bring the study of virtual reality computer models within the scope of a humanities subject.
The THEATRON computer software uses a special web browser that enables the user to navigate specially reconstructed virtual reality models of theatre and performance sites. Using the software, the user can not only see what – for example – the Theatre of Epidauros looked like when new, but can also walk and fly around it, and try the view from different seats. Some of the theatre sites featured even have audio reconstructions, enabling the user to hear what the audience would have heard from different parts of the theatre.

Research Tool

“What is so different from other available resources is that our tool is research-oriented,” explained Professor Richard Beacham of the University of Warwick, England, who is coordinating the project. “Other resources are led by text, and allow the user to be the passive recipient of information. The THEATRON software module enables the student to work in the physical context of a three-dimensional theatre site, actively exploring and discovering relevant information. It provides an excellent introduction to research skills.”

Widespread Potential

Whilst working on the module, the Consortium have realised that the technology has many other potential applications in fields such as chemistry, engineering and medicine. For example, it could be used for training surgeons, enabling them to navigate a three-dimensional realistic model of the human body. The contextual information that appears automatically would update them with the latest surgical techniques and knowledge.

“I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the full range of uses of this technology,” said Rikki Holland, Managing Director of Theatron Limited, the company that will market the software on behalf of the Consortium. “The combination of an integrated 3D viewer with fully automatic contextual information is novel in itself, but when you add the ability to provide updates in real-time and a full back-end content management system, we are talking about a very powerful and practical system with applications right across the board.”

Multimedia

The software module contains a vast array of multimedia resources, including photographs, sketches and plans; text; animations; video and sound clips. Initially available on a CD-ROM, the application will have a subscription option that enables users to connect online. With this option, the content of the module can be kept up-to-date and constantly enhanced with new theatre sites and multimedia resources.