Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: Darn Dome!

After a lot of joy building the girders for our model, it was only a matter of time before I hit a bump in the road, and it just so happened that my bump relates back to the worst thing about school – geometry.

The building of the dome required that the diameter of the dome is circular, but there is also a straight section which connects with the girders in the middle of the hallway. It took two full days and countless calculations to design a dome which flowed well into the existing hallway without compromising the structural design of the girders too much. The best way to achieve this was to create a semi-circular dome, with an extended girder joining the girders for the dome with the girders for the main hallway. The intersection of the girders on the corner was also a major concern, as I wanted to be sure that they would follow the design while not looking overcrowded.

After I finally created the dome, I then created the hallway that wraps around the entire model to form the first floor of the model. It was at this point that the model really came together, and I could start paying attention to smaller details in the model.

For more updates, please follow this blog and the blog of my project partner Fionn, which can be found here. Happy reading!

Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: We Started Building!

Thankfully, the time has finally come to start building the 3D model in 3dsMax. With Fionn working on the interior furniture features of the model, it is my job to build the structure and materials for the building of the exhibition hall. This involves the building of girders, which create the iron structure of the building, as well as the walls, floors, hallways, railings and the glass panels. When the girders are complete, I will create the walls and the roof of the building, which is composed entirely of glass panes supported by the iron frame structure.

The plan for creating the iron structure consists of created on the girder in its entirety and using the attach tool to temporarily attach all of the boxes together. I then intend to create a copy of the girder and flip it 180 on the x-axis to create a mirrored copy. I will then attach the mirrored girder to the original and make 25 copies, to create the 26 girders that we need to build the full model. I will use the floor map that Fionn created to put the girders in the correct places on the model, using the coordinates that she calculated so that the model is as accurate as possible.

I began the process of building the girders by calculating all of the measurements needed. This involved calculating the height of the ground floor level, the full height of the structure, the width of the entire structure, the width of the hallways that wrap all the way around the interior structure, and the diameter of the dome in the middle of the structure.

The building of the girder, I quickly discovered, is best done through the building of individual boxes using standard primitives. Using a reference image from the many sources that we found during our research, I placed the boxes in place to create each pillar. It was after this that matters got slightly more problematic; in order to create the curved iron bars that comprise the roof, I had to use the FFD 4X4 modifier. This modifier proved to be difficult to use when attempting to create a smooth curve in the roof, as it required the creation of a box with many vertices. Over the course of the entire model, these vertices would mean that the polygon count of the model would be too high. As a result of this, the iron bars of the roof are slightly pointy for my liking but are manageable for the sake of the polygon count.

A snap that I took at the height of my girder building, after the extent of my naivety set in.

After I built a single girder, I grouped the elements of the single girder and made a copy, which I then flipped 180 on the X-axis to create a mirrored image of the original girder. I then attached these girders together using the grouping tool and created 25 copies of this new group, which created all of the girders needed to create the main hallway of the model.

To keep up to date with our project, follow our updates here on my blog and on Fionn’s blog.

Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: Getting to Grips with 3dsMax.

Despite myself and Fionn being avid Apple Macbook fans, we had to set our differences with PCs aside in an effort to make our modelling job a little easier.

Originally, we played with the idea of using Autodesk Maya, the modelling software compatible with Macintosh operating systems, despite the fact that our class was learning how to use Autodesk 3dsMax, the PC equivalent to Maya. We saw that much of the basic components of the software were similar, and thought that we could apply some of our lessons on 3dsMax to Maya. The main purpose of using Maya was mainly for convenience; allowing us to work from home and to travel while working on the model was an important factor for both of us.

However, Fionn and I soon realised, as she has also highlighted in her blog post, that Maya is a whole other kettle of fish. From the first impression, the layout of Maya is cleaner and, to me, more visually appealing. This ended up being the nail in the head in the long run however, as it became evident that anybody who was not familiar with modelling software would not understand what any of the icons on the interface meant. Due to this, and because of our time constraints, we decided to use 3dsMax in the Digital Humanities Lab at An Foras Feasa, which proved to be a much easier interface to navigate.

As was to be expected with modelling software, 3dsMax is by no means an easy software to use without plenty of practice and guidance. In our 3D Recording module, we have spent the majority of the semster learning how to use 3dsMax, with many bumps in the road. The work that we did in class formed the foundations for us to build our 3D model, with plenty of emphasis on modifiers. We learned how to use 3dsMax through the creation of shapes, the use of modifiers and converters, and generally playing around with the interface of the software to find what works best for us in the scope of our project.

When beginning to use 3dsMax, the most important thing to remember is to save, save, save! Files in 3dsMax can get corrupted very easily, and in many cases cannot be recovered. AutoBackup of files is a useful tool, but best practice indicates the creation of multiple copies of files so that, in the event that one becomes corrupted, another can be used. For the purposes of sharing files on multiple devices, it is also useful to change all file types to relative paths, so that they may be opened across different devices which support 3dsMax files. This is useful in the context of a group project, because it means that both myself and Fionn can work on our own aspects of the same model at the same time. The final and most important aspect of conceptualisation of the project is the implementation of the correct rendering tool. In our case, the aim of the project is the creation of physically accurate material, which calls for the use of the MentalRay renderer.

When the building of the model begins, I’m sure I’ll have many other caveats to report, but for now, let me leave you with that. To keep up to date with our progress, you can catch all of the project reports here on my blog and here on Fionn’s blog. Happy reading!

Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: Conceptualisation, and Putting Pen to Paper for Once.

The best part about being partnered with Fionn for our 3D Recording project is the fact that she comes from an archaeology background, and is able to create a scene in her head, based on the images in front of her. In other words, she is able to conceptualise the final model that we are attempting to make. Unfortunately, I do not have the same skill, and as we do not have an image that encompasses the entire exhibition hall, despite all of the amazing reference materials that we did manage to get, it became obvious very quickly that we would have to create some reference material that allowed me to visualise the entire model. For this reason, we decided to draw the floor plan for the model using pen and paper before we start the modelling using 3dsMax.

Some sketches, measurements and coordinates that we compiled for the model.

This task serves two purposes; on the one hand, I am now able to visualise the model that we will be creating, conceptualising the layout, shape, size and geometry of the model. Secondly, the drawing gives me an idea of what skills I will need to adopt in 3dsMax to complete the project, in terms of modelling. The blueprint drawings that we created also helped to calculate any measurements that we didn’t already have. This allowed us to create the model, on paper, with the correct geometry for the project, so that our finished model is as accurate as possible. We then took the time to convert all of the imperial measurements into metric, as this would be easier to model in 3dsMax.

Keep up to date with our project here or on Fionn’s blog. Thanks for reading!

Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: The Archives, Take Two.

After confirming our appointments with the National Photographic Archive and the National Library, Fionn and I attended our appointments on March 3rd and March 10th, respectively. The sources that we had requested in the National Photographic Archive proved to be very useful, as highlighted in my previous post, depicting details of the architecture of the domed ceiling and the stage that was erected in the middle of the hallway. Due to the nature of the archival material, I cannot insert images here, but here are the relevant call numbers; L_CAB_00071, EB_1122, L_NS_10626, L_NS_10633 and L_NS_10634.

All of the call numbers proved to be useful sources and the need to photograph them for use in our project was evident. Therefore, we made an appointment for the following week (10th of March) to return and photograph the sources, accompanied by Neale Rooney, a Research Assistant at An Foras Feasa. Our preferred method of photographing was very simple. Knowing that we would not be using the sources for anything besides our own reference material, we knew that the photographs did not have to be extremely high-quality, and only to a level that we could zoom in to see the small details without the image becoming blurred. Therefore, we had a sheet of white paper and the camera of an iPhone 6 to use for photographing, as this would be sufficient for our needs. Because the sources available in the National Photographic Archive were negatives, they required a backlight in order to view them correctly. The glare from the backlight interfered with the camera when we first attempted to take a picture, but the addition of the piece of white paper removed the glare and still showed the detail of the images, meaning that we could photograph them in an acceptable quality, a tip which Nora at the archive was also appreciative of!

After the appointment with the National Photographic Archive to photograph our sources, we had another appointment at the National Library. We attended the Reading Room and took the time to find the useful material within the books and catalogue that we had requested, so that we could request copies of the pages. This material included an account of the items available at the exhibition, a brief history of the creation of the exhibition and some newspaper material, but some of the material found was not as relevant as what we had found at the National Photographic Archive. However, all of it proved to be contextual at the very least, and gave us a better understanding of the purpose and scope of the exhibition.

When we arrived back to Maynooth, I immediately scanned the photocopies from the National Library and added them to our shared OneDrive folder, and Fionn dispensed the photographs that we had taken at the National Photographic Archive from her phone into the OneDrive folder also, meaning that all of our data was stored together in an easily-accessible manner.

You can keep up with our project here or on Fionn’s blog. Thanks for reading!

Exposure of Digital Collections Project with RCSI.

For my internship with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, I am undertaking the creation of a digital format, using Omeka, of the institution’s exhibition on RCSI’s relationship with the 1916 Rising, entitled Surgeons and Insurgents: RCSI and the Easter Rising. The project involves the transferring of data in the form of photographs, essays and videos, the creation of metadata, and the designing of a website into a user-friendly, easily-navigated, and multi-level tool for researchers and general interest alike.

Photograph of an area of the ‘Surgeons and Insurgents’ exhibition, March 31, 2016


The centenary of the 1916 Rising in Ireland and it’s celebration allowed for a great number of commemorative events and projects throughout the country during 2016. One such example was the physical exhibition in RCSI during the spring of 2016, the website for which I am designing. Such exhibitions were part of the Irish tourism industry throughout the centenary year, and brought thousands of visitors to the country. For this reason, the celebration of the centenary should also be commemorated by institutions. The creation of digital exhibitions is also a lesson in advancement of cultural engagement tools and the maintenance of digital data over time. Such examples of cultural engagement tools include An Foras Feasa’s own Letters of 1916 project, a crowdsourcing initiative which promotes the public’s engagement with the communications of people in 1916. This serves three purposes; the first is the engagement of the public with primary source historical documents, the second is the preservation of the data through online repositories and storage techniques, and the third is the creation of a historical database for the letters in their finished state which would include a digital copy of the original, a transcribed copy, and the associated metadata for each letter. While my project is not so heavily focussed on the engagement of the public, I intend for it to be used as a source of reference and interest for a wide range of enthusiasts.

In order to reach this wide audience, it is my intention to organise the website in such a manner that the exhibition can be presented in a range of different ways, depending on the wishes of the visitor to the website. There are three principle navigation settings that I wish to set up, depending on the interests of the visitor to the website. The first is the ‘primary’ navigation of the entire exhibition. The reason that I wish to include this is due to the fact that the original Surgeons and Insurgents exhibition was a physical exhibition and was designed in such a way as to guide the visitor through the exhibition in a very purposeful way. I would like to keep this structure, as it would be the closest thing to the physical exhibition that can exist, so it seems appropriate that a step by step approach to the exhibition is utilised. The second navigational tool is to present the data according to the data type. In the case of this exhibition, there are photographs, videos of lectures delivered by academics, and a booklet which contains information about the exhibition and the narrative history of RCSI’s relationship with the 1916 Rising. It is my intention that the lecture series is organised into one collection, as it is contextual, and very academic in its delivery; for this reason, researchers and academics would be the most likely to engage with the video collection. The photographs can be organised into smaller sub-sections, depending on the material referred to in the photographs. Some of the collection contains multiple photographs of the same areas of the exhibition, and such multiples can be grouped together in the collection. The photographs, along with the narrative from the exhibition booklet can provide context and be of general interest to the everyday visitor to the website. I believe that this framework for the website would be the best option to make the content accessible to the widest range of visitors.

For the purposes of my framework and the content of the website, it was decided that Omeka would be the most appropriate tool to build the website. Omeka is an open-source website design application. It has the capabilities of handling large volumes of data in various forms, and a huge selection of plugins can be downloaded for use in the Omeka platform, such as ‘YouTube Import’, ‘Exhibit Builder’ and ‘Collection Tree’. Such plugins allow me to carry out various different tasks which suit my needs. The added advantage of using Omeka is twofold; it is very easy to transfer ownership of the website to RCSI when my project is completed, so that they may continue to maintain the website when my involvement has ended, and also, RCSI has used Omeka before to create a website for the Emily Dickson collection, also held by the institution. The Dickson collection is a good starting point to ascertain how such digital collections can be formatted, and was one of my first references when I began this project. However, because the data for the Surgeons and Insurgents collection is very different due to its wide general narrative, different approaches must be taken in the creation of the website.

Reconstruction of the 1865 Dublin International Exhibition: Time to Visit the Archives!

As we had already found copious amounts of sources for our project online, Fionn and I still decided that we would pay a visit to the National Photographic Archives to see what sources they had pertaining to our project, and also because I’m an historian and I just really love being in an archive. The trip proved to be very successful; not only were the sources extremely useful and aided our conceptualisation of the building, but we also got donuts afterwards, and if that’s not a great ending to the day, then I don’t know what is!

Anyway, we managed to find five images in the National Photographic Archives, three of which we decided to photograph for our own use. Due to the nature of the archival material, I cannot insert images here, but here are the relevant call numbers; L_CAB_00071, EB_1122, L_NS_10626, L_NS_10633 and L_NS_10634. The images that we used depicted a front view of the stage nestled within the dome in the middle of the hallway, the details of the domed ceiling and the shape of the girders, and some images of the exterior of the building, one of which was useful, as it showed us how the iron girders on the inside of the building connected with the ones on the outside.

As we could not photograph these images at the time of our first appointment, we made an appointment for March 10th, when we will have the opportunity to photograph them ourselves. Keep up to date with our journey here and on Fionn’s blog. Thanks for keeping up with us!