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Calling all videographers and photographers: help Realityvirtual recreate the old Christchurch Cathedral in VR

Realityvirtual’s Simon Che de Boer recently had a hand in documenting one of the world’s most ancient civilisations in VR. And now, he’s keen to get to work on his passion project: local cultural preservation work of the Christchurch Cathedral. He wants to resurrect the old Cathedral in VR using publicly sourced photography, so is putting out a call to the public to submit any photos or videos they have of the building pre-earthquake, and using deep learning, a company can fill in the missing data and build a VR experience around this.

Realityvirtual is a New Zealand-based VR cinematography company. Although founder Che de Boer’s AR work has been dubbed ‘the world’s most realistic VR’ and taken him all across the globe, from Egypt, to Italy, to further abroad, he says he is especially passionate about using technology to document heritage in his home country.

So in his latest endeavour, he wants to use Realityvirtual’s photogrammetry techniques to create a VR experience that transports people back to a time when the famous Cathedral was fully intact.

“The Christchurch Cathedral is something I’ve had a lot interest in for a very long time,” he says.

“What makes the cathedral interesting is there’s a lot of user data on the internet – a lot of tourist photos – and a real mixed bag of data, so what we’re trying to do here locally is to encourage government and local government to back us up on this, because we think preservation of heritage sites is really important. We've struggled to get traction with this, which is why we’re turning to sourcing material from the greater community.”

On a recent project, Nefertari: Journey to Eternity, Realityvirtual used deep learning techniques to fill in the gaps on the photographs shot of Nefertari’s tomb. Che de Boer says this tactic worked incredibly well, and so the same technique will be applied to all the data collected about the Christchurch Cathedral.


Nefertari: Journey to Eternity in VR

He says the files submitted by members of the public don’t have to necessarily be of a high quality, either, as the computer can fill in the gaps.

“How it works is we collect material of varying qualities – high resolution and low resolution – anything we can get our hands on, suck up all that data, then the computer sits there for weeks running at 80 degrees Celsius understanding what it's looking at and the photos we gave it. It uses parts of one photograph to sharpen an area of another photograph and to fill in missing areas.

“We should be able to do this technique with a multitude of heritage sites through crowdsourced data. We can crowdsource a hell of a lot of data from prehistoric photos, photos from decades past, like archival photos from the 1920s, 1930s. It's plausible with enough information, we can recreate environments like 1920s San Francisco in this virtual experience, based on that notion, recreate that environment that doesn’t exist anymore or is damaged significantly.” 

And the VR experience won’t be fuzzy and undetailed, either. Che de Boer says the company is the business of making ‘slice of life’ experiences, which feel as realistic as moving around a particular building in person.

“The presence we are offering is as close as technically possible to an approximation of being there,” he says. “We are encapsulating the essence of reality. The freedom offered while being immersed is paramount. We can also argue that this experience in many ways is better than it is in person as you have all the time in the world to wonder.”

If you have photos or videos of the Christchurch Cathedral to send Che de Boer’s way, get in touch with him here.

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