If anyone had told me in my undergrad that I would be building a foam and paper model as part of my PhD coursework, I’m sure I would have thought they were crazy. However, here I am, building a scale replica of a PoW camp in an attempt to make an interactive exhibit.
I have now finished the physical model of the camp. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the model is on a foam board overlain with an aerial photograph of the site. The buildings were scaled to size and built with a foam frame. I then copied the textures from my digital model, scaled them down, and produced a fold- and cut-out version that could be wrapped around the frames.
Now with all the buildings finished, the model is starting to take shape.
One of the next steps is to add buttons to the model. These buttons will trigger 360° views and videos that will explain the history of the camp and help users understand what life was like for German PoWs and their guards in Riding Mountain National Park.
Well I finally settled on a project for my Interactive Exhibit Design class: an interactive model of the prisoner of war camp in Riding Mountain National Park. Having created a digital model of the camp last semester, I wanted to incorporate that work into something that could theoretically be used for a public display. Here’s the plan…
I am currently building a physical model of the site (about 1/500 scale) on a 20″ x 30″ foam board. The buildings are also being built from foam board and are “wrapped” in the textures from my 3D model. A number of buttons will be strategically placed throughout the map and the idea is that users will be able to push one of these buttons, triggering a 360° video/viewer (on a nearby screen) of the model from that viewpoint. This will hopefully allow users to get the camp layout and provide a little more immersion than a stand-alone model.
As of right now, the plan for the interactive portion will use buttons hooked up to a Makey-Makey and Max 6 which should provide me with everything I need. Time (and skills) permitting, I’d also like to see if I can provide a way to switch between “historic” (using the model) and a modern (using photographs taken at the site) 360° views.
Stay tuned for more updates!
This semester I am taking a Interactive Exhibit Design course in which each student designs and creates an interactive exhibit of any shape or form. At the moment, I have two ideas for my project and I’m going to share my first (more on the second later).
I am always looking at new ways of presenting the history of PoWs in Riding Mountain National Park. While there has been increased attention regarding the labour project’s history, there remains no display in the Wasagaming townsite. This, I hope, will change sometime in the near future. As I began building a 3D model for my Digital History assignment last semester, I began thinking of ways that would allow me to incorporate the model into some type of interactive display. Rather than just stick with the traditional physical model/diorama, this course presents an excellent opportunity to turn a traditional display into something a little more exciting.
The next question is which direction I want to take it. As space (and resources) are limited, one option is to have an entirely computer-based exhibit. In this case, the project would take the form of a simple program for a SMART Board or traditional computer station. I’m thinking the screen would display a bird’s-eye view of the camp layout as it appeared in 1944. By clicking one of the buildings, a video of the 3D model and historic photographs would then provide a virtual tour of that specific building, indicating its purpose and history. I would also try to work in other non-building related elements, like PoW stories, dugout canoes, and camp pets, into the exhibit as well to provide a sense of what life was like for PoWs at Riding Mountain.
Another option would be to create a physical reconstruction of the camp as well. Looking at my experience with the demographics interested in the camp’s history, most aren’t tech savvy. By creating a scale model of the site, hopefully I can bridge the gap a bit. Still have to work out the details on how I want to build it.
But wait – why stop there? Why not both?! If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’m thinking of how I can combine a physical model with a digital reconstruction. One idea is to have the buildings function essentially as buttons (or sensors) that people can press (or do some wort of action), which would then trigger a virtual tour on an nearby screen. I think this physical/digital reconstruction would help bridge generation gaps and allow both the tech-savvy and the not-so-tech-savvy visitors to learn more about the history of PoWs in Riding Mountain National Park.
Any ideas, comments, or suggestions?
From October 1943 to October 1945, over 400 German prisoners of war (PoWs) were employed in a woodcutting operation in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. Housed in a newly built camp on the shore of Whitewater Lake, the PoWs had better living conditions than the majority of civilians living around the park. When the buildings of the camp were removed in 1945 and 1946, the area was allowed to return to its natural state. For seventy years, nature has reclaimed the site, which is now a small prairie bordered by spruce. The history, however, has not been forgotten. Through the use of a 3D reconstruction such as this one, I hope to achieve a better understanding of how PoWs experienced internment at Riding Mountain while, at the same time, contributing to better public interpretation on and off the site.
The first step was to find appropriate sources that would allow me to build models of the buildings. Fortunately, through my research, I have found photographs of almost every building at the camp. However, no map of the camp has survived and it near impossible to determine the camp’s layout from the photographs alone. A solution came with a 1949 aerial photograph from which I could make out the foundations of the majority of the camp’s buildings. Combining the information obtained from these photographs with an architectural plan for a bunkhouse similar to those built at Riding Mountain, I could now start modelling.
Using Trimble’s SketchUp program, I started modelling the buildings whose dimensions I knew, or was fairly certain of. While the majority of the buildings at the camp were standard military installations and could be modelled from the information obtained from the architectural plans, I encountered problems when trying to model unique buildings, such as the garage, barn, and stables. This, however, was where SketchUp proved its worth. Using the Photomatch tool, I applied a single measurement to a photograph, which then allowed me to measure, with fair accuracy, the length of any other building in the photograph. With these dimensions, I could now finish modelling.
This 3D reconstruction, however, has to be taken as a representation rather than an exact replica of the camp. Due to source limitations, I was not able to model everything to the detail that I would have liked but instead had to improvise for cases in which no data exists. The building interiors were especially difficult for only one interior photo, of the recreation hall, is known to exist. While further research may uncover the interior layout of these buildings, I chose to leave these areas empty for the time. Another difficulty I encountered was that with a higher level of detail resulted in a significant decrease in the speed of both my computer and SketchUp. Therefore, to ensure that the final model was still accessible, I was unable to include the detail that I would have liked.
Despite it’s limitations, a 3D model such as this one can be extremely useful. By building this model, I am now able to learn much more about what life was like for German PoWs in Riding Mountain. Already, this model has also allowed me to correct some inaccuracies with my existing map, particularly in the designation of some of the buildings. By comparing the model of the camp to a copy of the “Nightwatchman’s Circuit,” listing the route taken by one of the guards each night, I changed the designation of three buildings and identified a previously-unknown fourth. More importantly, however, this model presents numerous opportunities for historical interpretation off and on the site. Whereas I have traditionally provided visitors with GPS units and printed handouts, a digital model expands my ability to help visitors understand the camp’s history. By uploading the model to IOS, using an app like SightSpace, visitors will be able to visualize and interact with the camp model while standing on the former camp’s location.
This model is only the beginning of reconstructing life at Riding Mountain. As more information becomes available (and as I port the model over to a faster computer), I hope to build a more complete and detailed representation of the camp. This will allow me to study the camp in ways previously unimaginable while contributing to a better understanding of what life was like for German prisoners of war in Riding Mountain National Park.
Now that I have my GIS basemap to work from, my next project is creating a 3D model of the camp with SketchUp. While I really don’t have any experience with modelling, here’s what I’ve been working on recently. This is one wing of a standard H-Hut that served as barracks for the PoWs at Riding Mountain. While it may look simple, it is surprising how long it takes to get this far!