Final Lines on Fore Abbey Cloisters
Moving towards a model end
The deadline for completion of our 3D project on Fore Abbey’s Cloisters, led to a great concentration of work and a forward momentum that meant our initial concentration on detailed site measurements fell somewhat by the wayside!
We had created our arch array on one machine and worked through our textures and overall cloister area on another and were confident that using the plans of the abbey as a guide would allow us to scale and adjust with some ease.
The Benedictine Abbey remains at Fore in County Westmeath are impressive in their ruined state, both from the sheer scale of the remains, but also from their position in the landscape. Tucked into a valley near Lough Lene the Abbey is a striking visual monument and one can only imagine the awe and sense of wonder it would have cast in its heyday, as it would have been the most impressive manmade object that many of its visitors would ever see.
To do it justice in a 3D rendering we measured what we could of arches, bevels, pillars and physical space. We looked at similar abbey constructions and leant heavily on the OPW plans drawn up by H.G Leask many decades ago. Discussing the project with our supervisor, with some of our fellow students and with an expert in 3D graphics we became aware of the difficult nature of the task but were determined to work towards a model that could form the start of a long term 3D visual project on the Abbey.
Fast forward to the days and nights before the deadline for the project completion and we found ourselves with a mountain to climb in terms of creating the cloisters to a level we would be happy with. One of the most difficult issues was applying the textures that we had intended to use.
Applying a texture by loading a bitmap into the material editor we applied it to the main walls of the cloisters and turned on the shaded material with maps viewport setting – but time and again after applying a UVW Map modifier, we lost sight of the material as we utilised the gizmo to rotate and resize the map. After spending hours with no great progress we tried to divert ourselves by creating a compound material using a series of textures we purchased, and which looked very impressive when properly applied but here again while we came close to a result we had spent far too long and achieved very little (which with a deadline approaching is akin to nothing).
We returned to applying a simple texture and went back to the UVW map and after struggling with the Planar/Box selection on the entire element – we tried to apply purely to polygons and set Poly ID’s – applied the material and then the UVW map. But again a problem, as soon as we moved off the Poly, the material seemed applied to the entire element and so with much wailing and gnashing of teeth we selected the Edit Poly modifier and began again. This time the UVW map modifier appeared to stick and we began to work on another part of the walls as a separate poly – disaster – the UVW Map gizmo affected the original poly and we got lost again.
After many fruitless attempts with these settings we managed to apply the the UVW across the full element as a box – and achieved a reasonable result and began to look at the roof tiles. Here we had more success when we altered a setting int he incoming dialogue box from ‘Explicit’ to Planar WXY’ and finally the map applied in a manner in which we could work at a basic level. Yet again it felt like we had stumbled through a maze without having a key to the ‘map’ but we were so close to the end that we kept pressing on rather than going back for directions!
Our final challenges arose when we moved back to the main machines in the Iontas lab and combined all our elements. In spite of our attempts to stick always to architectural plans and to keep our measurements as guides throughout, we had underestimated the effect of a small mistake when amplified across 14 cloisters. The arches were slightly off scale and the more we attempted to adjust the cloister square, the further askew they seemed to go. We debated how to proceed and were at a loss, until we remembered that the one area we were totally reliant on guesswork was the height of the cloister roof pitch. Our initial creation was constructed on photos which showed the remains of a connection seal or gutter high up around the cloister square walls – a point which we had never measured, just extrapolated from the photographs. By re-adjusting this point, which we were estimating to being with, we were able to adequately scale the arches array and press on with the model.
Once again however the texturing would not apply correctly – perhaps we had used the wrong shaders, perhaps our rendering was badly set, but as the night wore on into morning it became clear that the texture we had chosen would not display as we would have wished and we were unable to resolve it. Nonetheless the cloisters looked like cloisters, our roof construction had solid beams under the texture for support and although not quite up to modern roofing standards our guttering was based on similar abbey designs and gave the roof a more finished look. The grass in the centre of the cloisters was a combination of a purchased texture and a patchwork using free textures adjusted in a photo layering app – again we needed more time to apply a bump map and create a more pleasing look, but we contented ourselves with the look achieved and the addition of a single fallen stick gave a sense of realism to an Abbey which would have been surrounded by forests in its heyday.
Looking back on the entirety of the project, both myself and Marianna, who worked with me, feel that we lost a lot of time trying to create a very accurate pillar for our arch array and that the time to cut our losses on this part of the project was missed. We spent far too long working and re-working combinations of cylinders, splines, and modifiers and in the end we wound up working on a version that was as close to the photos as a version we had worked up weeks before.
Our enthusiasm for the project never waned and in spite of our not being entirely happy with the end result, I think we both feel that it is a very good point for us to move on from as we look to create a piece of work for the community to use in their promotion of the Abbey as an important historical and spiritual centre that deserves to be preserved and researched to a far higher level than at present. Throughout the project we talked to local people on the ground, several tourism co-ordinators and historians connected with the Abbey – these connections have convinced us of the need to create something that can further the future of Fore Abbey and perhaps restore some of the awe and wonder that would have been felt by those who saw it in its heyday.
They say there are ‘Seven Wonders of Fore’ – the eighth wonder is perhaps that so little is made of this gem in the middle of Westmeath and we ourselves are left wondering if someday we can make a model to bring this amazing site once more back to life in a digital realm undreamed of by the monks who first textured its walls with the rough stone of the valley and breathed life into its cloisters with their prayer and song.