Heritage Preservation through VR

30 Jul, 2020
AUT Digital Design PhD student Katarina Markovic
AUT Digital Design PhD student Katarina Markovic

AUT digital design PhD student Katarina Markovic was one of the students involved in creating a virtual reality experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut in Antarctica. The project was developed by AUT scientists and digital designers, alongside Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut was Scott Base’s first building and was conserved by Antarctic Heritage Trust in 2017. The virtual reality (VR) experience allows users to tour the five rooms of the building and learn more about how the early explorers lived and worked in Antarctica more than 60 years ago.  Learn more about the project here.

Read below for a Q&A with Katarina about how she turned raw scan data of the hut into a full immersive virtual reality experience.

How did you get involved in this project?
I’ve always been fascinated by Antarctica and have always wanted to go there to see it for myself. I am from Ukraine and in school, I learnt about the Russians’ first expedition to Antarctica. Then I started watching more documentaries about Antarctica such as about animals and other expeditions and explorations. So when AUT Head of Digital Design and XR Lab Gregory Bennett offered me the chance to work on this project, I immediately said yes.

What did you work on?
I created the models and textures from the raw scan data for the VR experience. I had those skills and a bit of experience from my master's project where I created a digital restoration of a heritage boat.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was to preserve the small details of the hut. Sometimes, small details get lost during the scanning so I had to reconstruct those from photographs. There were also some details that couldn’t be fully captured by laser so I had to recreate those as well through logical assumption. It’s all about the tiny details and making sure they are as precise as possible.

How are technology and storytelling linked?
My background is in heritage preservation and I am really passionate about historical artefacts. Virtual reality allows you to experience historical artefacts for yourself instead of just seeing them on a flat surface. It influences your perception even if you’re not at the actual location itself.

I think VR is a really useful tool because it introduces new stories, different perspectives. It’s a form of experiential learning and when you experience something, it influences you emotionally and visually. It gives you a memory.

It makes the whole storytelling experience a more personal interaction. You can download VR experiences at home too so it makes it more intimate. As a history buff myself, I really like being able to explore and ‘touch’ things. I explore more of this as part of my PhD. I want to understand what influence this technology brings to society.

What was the highlight of the project for you?
I further refined the protocols from my master's project so as to optimise the environment for VR and make it look good. No artefacts are exactly the same so you have to think about how to make it the best experience possible. I enjoyed it because it’s not just visual creativity but technical creativity.

What do you hope the public will get out of the VR?
I hope that the public will learn more about the rich history of Antarctica – especially the personal histories of the people who had the courage to explore.


The AUT digital design team that worked on this project includes Gregory Bennett, Katarina Markovic, Lee Jackson, Mairi Gunn, Rebecca Hand and Jade Paynter

How to view the VR experience

  • To view the virtual experience at home on your mobile device visit the app store and download the Antarctic Heritage Trust VR app on Google Play or Apple App Store for free. Best viewed with a cardboard headset.
  • To experience the fully immersive and interactive version, download it for free from Steam and watch it on your HTC Vive headset.
  • Visit Antarctic Heritage Trust’s website to see who is hosting the fully immersive and interactive version around New Zealand: www.nzaht.org

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