Friday, 18 June 2010

Bressingham Online Collection and the Royal Coaches

Another project that I have volunteered for is to help get Bressingham's exhibit collection online. As an Information Management consultant my day to day job involves dealing with information retrieval, content management, website coding and design, so this is something that is right up my street.

I have built several comprehensive websites for friends over the years and have a lot of experience with some open source content management software that will address 95% or more of what needs to be achieved.

So far I have had several meetings with Phillip, Bressingham's Assistant Curator where we have discussed how the exhibits might be organised into categories, and what information exists about each item. For instance, there is a lot of data about the locomotives such as weight, length, manufacturer, railway company, wheel configuration etc, but for something like a railway signalling lamp there will be much less. We will also take detailed photographs of the exhibits, both for archival purposes and to present on the website. Not every single exhibit will be presented online, but all of the larger and more interesting items should be, along with a representative selection of the smaller or more unusual - there are a lot of items that Bressingham holds which are not on general display.

Winning entry for I♥YOO competition
Photograph P Rooke
One of the pieces of software that will make my life much easier is ZOO, a Content Application Builder to help manage and publish all of the different exhibit categories and items that we create. To help promote their new App Suite, they were giving away ten subscriptions valid for 6 months worth €99 - all we had to do was download and print out a PDF, take a photograph of someone holding the print and email it to them. Obviously the more interesting or unusual the photograph, the more chance you had of winning. I suggested that Phillip took some photographs of the the drivers and trains and much to everyone's delight we were one of the lucky ten! Many thanks to Phillip for taking the photographs, and to all the drivers involved for their co-operation.

Virtual Reality

One of the ideas that came out of my discussions with Phillip was to use the new collection website to provide some access to the Royal Coaches through a Virtual Reality (VR) tour.

Bressingham owns two Royal Coaches, Nos. 396 and 2901 which were used by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and various royal staff throughout their life. Although there is a raised walkway between the two coaches, members of the public can only get a view through the windows, and as the walkway does not run the entire length of the coaches there are compartments which are not visible at all.

Armed with my 15mm fisheye lens I shot handheld sequences of eight photographs at approximately 45 degrees intervals inside several of the compartments in each coach. The idea was to get some test frames so that I could stitch them together to see if the idea would work in reality. Some of the compartments such as the bathrooms are incredibly compact and will prove to be a challenge to photograph properly. Another has a large mirrored wardrobe which will be a challenge to photograph with me not in the frame.

Below are the eight test frames that I shot inside the Royal Saloon - they are straight out of camera with no processing, cropping or anything else. Clicking the image will load a larger view, use your browser's back button to return here.

Eight test frames taken in Royal Saloon No. 396

Here is the resulting image after stitching with the cylindrical projection option as I did not shoot frames covering the ceiling (zenith) and floor (nadir) for this test. The distortion visible is due to the way in which the image has been projected onto a flat surface. When viewed using a VR viewer these all but disappear as the image is wrapped into a three dimensional space.

Resulting test stitched image

Note that for the moment I am using a trial copy of some stitching software PTGui so that I can evaluate it, hence the watermarking. Once I am happy that I can use it to achieve what I need (and I don't see any reason that won't happen given what I've seen so far) I will purchase a license.

I now need to investigate some of the many VR Flash players available so that it can be presented on the web interactively allowing visitors to zoom in and pan round the image. Ideally it will be presented with a plan view of the coach to facilitate navigation around the compartments. Phillip has already produced a draft plan of coach No. 2901

Draft plan view of Royal Coach No. 2901 drawn by P Rooke
© Bressingham Steam Museum 2010

Once I have grappled with the VR Flash player and know that I can present the VR tour on a webpage how I want to, I will then need to properly shoot all of the images for stitching. This requires a VR head for my tripod, and will allow me to accurately photograph the interiors.

When stitching frames together it is vital that the camera is kept level as it is rotated otherwise you get a distorted image when the frames are stitched. You must also rotate the camera about the lens nodal point otherwise parallax errors occur where near and far objects do not correctly align. A Nodal Ninja 5 is looking the current favourite as it handles heavier equipment and is more flexible in its configuration. Fortunately I enjoy landscape photography so it should get plenty of use beyond this project.

If the Royal Coaches VR tour is successful, then I might look to see if I can extend the concept, in conjunction with Bressingham, to other exhibits such as the Gallopers or signalbox. This will of course be time dependent.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is some project you're undertaking. Given I am at the other end of the country, your online content is the only view I am ever going to have of Bressingham.

    Good luck with all the work, I know you are enjoying it (really!), just wish fish-eye didn't put so much distortion in.


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