Making-of the 3D virtual recreation of the Tower of the Captive (Alhambra)


17 Dicembre, 2018

Making-of the 3D virtual recreation of the Tower of the Captive (Alhambra)

Press play and put yourself in the shoes of the brilliant architects of the Tower of the Captive!  These are the first images of our virtual reality project in the Alhambra, which will allow visitors to enjoy this unique space as it might have been in the 14th century during its construction or as imagined by the romantic writers of the 19th century. The project began with taking over 3,000 high-quality photographs, generating more than 100 million polygons or intersections capable of bestowing volume and realism to the virtual image. Check it out in the video!

In this 3D model, the precision of the relief turns every detail into an editable virtual “object” capable of being manipulated. This way the lighting settings can be alternated to fit the narration and the walls, floors and windows can be dressed to modify the decoration, replacing objects or even completing materials that have been worn out over time, such as the ceramic tiled skirting. In short, it is a totally customisable virtual space for the purposes of research, conservation and, as in the present case, education.

The palatine houses, towers and structures of the Alhambra city featured the same austere style on its exterior that can be seen today, but inside they were even more striking than at present. The most obvious difference is the loss of polychrome decoration, gone with the passage of time. In the photographs we have taken, you can clearly identify the remnants of the most popular pigments used in the yeseria plasterwork: red and blue.  These colours that adorned the yeseria, together with the geometric perfection of the decorative motifs and the incorporation of natural elements as an essential part of the architecture, created a perfectly harmonious space. Soon this idyllic setting will be open to all of us!


How did the project come about, what does it hope to show?

The Tower of the Captive virtual recreation project was conceived as an educational tool that in turn serves for conservation and research purposes. The project is based around high-quality 3D digitisation using photogrammetry.

The idea emerged as part of the family tour currently on offer (in its Beta version) for visitors to the monument. During the tour, families have the opportunity to solve riddles and complete quizzes on the two most important hills in the complex: the Sabika and the Cerro del Sol. Some very special companions will accompany them on their way, as the good onlookers, troublemakers and marauders that they are.


At one of the points along the way, visitors will have an opportunity that was unimaginable only a few years ago: to delve into a virtual space with the illusion of being in a real setting (with 360° vision and sound). It is a “mysterious tower” that is only open to visitors on a special monthly tour, due to its small size and to ensure that its beauty remains intact.  But there is still much more! The recreation also allows visitors to see this space centuries ago, as if they were on a journey through time.

Fiction lovers know that altering the cycle of time is not easy, that’s why this project seeks to make children and adults aware of the difficulty of ensuring the faithful appearance of these rooms as they were in the past. In the 19th century the romantic writers already “played” with imagining these spaces in their original state by describing them through words. This brought life and popular knowledge to the legends of the Alhambra created by our ancestors. Many of these legends even lent their names to the different constructions.

This project is quite simply a fascinating opportunity to understand the past of this monument and others that, like the Alhambra, have survived over the centuries and have given witness to the multiculturalism present in the area. At the same time, it seeks to value the work of curators, historians and restorers, the safeguarders of our history. In addition to these traditional tasks capable of protecting our collective memory, we find the work done by the creators of virtual experiences.

On this occasion we wanted to collaborate with the team at Miopia Efectos Visuales. Miopia is a creative studio that has been awarded several times for its work in advertising and film, including experience on internationally-renowned films and television series. More and more, working with professionals from different sectors will bring us profoundly interesting experiences.


Virtual reality in museums and monuments

The recreation and design of spaces is just one of the multiple virtual reality options available in museums. In this case, we wanted to use virtual experience as an illustrative tool to show the past in a space that is not available every day of the year. We believe that all virtual experiences held in a physical space must reflect  the site in question, not the other way around. In other words, it must emphasise the site and be able to explain it from its many perspectives, which are generally not understood without background information from an expert.

This is a space with a complex array of historical, architectural  and decorative features that are difficult to convey in words—something applicable to almost any site of historical importance. From the historical point of view, it responds to several phases of construction, use and conception. From an architectural perspective, it is a tower-dwelling and therefore two types of constructions in one. And finally, from a decorative point of view, it stands out for its beautiful and complex yeseria plasterwork that includes a variety of plant motifs and inscribed poems.

Much has been said about the different applications for virtual reality in museums. From the now-familiar virtual reality tours (we won’t mention any in particular), to the “journeys” through a painting (for example, the recent Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum experience) or a narration by historical figures (like the Experience Ancient Olympia). While its applications and objectives may be similar, it should not be confused with augmented reality. We dedicated a post to augmented reality a few years ago, when this entire universe of possibilities was beginning to open up: “Augmented reality in museums: 10 potential contributions to cultural tourism”.

In Spain we can find recent virtual reality experiences in the National Archaeological Museum. Here, instead of photorealism, the creators opted for animation.  On many occasions these types of innovations are supported and promoted by the technological developers themselves; nevertheless, now projects such as virtual reality in the Alhambra—part of the monument’s official audio guide service operated by GVAM—are starting to come to light. Cases like this show how the future of audio guides won’t resort to replicating past formulas or cancelling them altogether, rather they will incorporate technical innovations to adapt to the education and conservation objectives.

Olympia). Aunque sus aplicaciones y objetivos pueden ser similares, no debe confundirse con el concepto de realidad aumentada, al que ya dedicamos un post hace unos años, cuando todo este universo de posibilidades se empezaba a esbozar: “Realidad aumentada en museos: 10 posibles aportaciones al turismo cultural”.

En España, podemos encontrar experiencias recientes de realidad virtual en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional. En este caso en lugar del foto-realismo se ha optado por animación.  En muchas ocasiones este tipo de innovaciones están apoyadas y soportados por los propios desarrolladores tecnológicos, pero en la actualidad empiezan a ver la luz proyectos como el de realidad virtual en la Alhambra, parte del servicio de audioguías oficial del monumento, operado por GVAM. Casos como este demuestra como el futuro de las audioguías no pasa por replicar las fórmulas del pasado ni por anularlas, sino por adecuar el uso de las novedades técnicas a los objetivos de divulgación o, incluso, conservación.