AR CASE STUDY
GOOGLE: PYRAMIDS OF MEROË
A web-based augmented reality experience exploring the Pyramids of Meroë in partnership with Google.
Google Brand Studio commissioned Draw & Code to create a web-based augmented reality experience that celebrates Sudan’s Pyramids of Meroë. This series of over 200 structures form one of the ancient wonders of Sudan, and were built by the Kushite Kingdom, one of the great African civilisations.
Draw & Code’s role in the process of creating this immersive web experience focused on the 3D and augmented reality components of the project. Google aims to help people to learn more about the world’s culture and heritage globally using technology, by working with a range of partners from around the globe. In the case of the Pyramids of Meroë, this was through a website, built with the most advanced abilities of Chrome in mind.
The experience brought together key technologies including a virtual walkaround through Street View, that offers 360 street-level panoramic imagery, 3D models in the browser, and an augmented reality experience that brought the Meroë’s pyramids to life in your own space.
The pyramids themselves are intricate and ancient. Google Brand Studio used photogrammetry to enable the digital recreation and preservation of key pyramids. Photogrammetry is stitching together a multitude of photographs of a scene, all taken at varying angles, to help build a 3D representation of an object.
For the exterior, drones were deployed to film and photograph the pyramids from different angles, building a vast web of imagery that would allow us to create a realistic and representative model of key locations.
In the case of the pyramids, the photogrammetry was just the starting point as this was a project that had to work smoothly on a range of mobile devices via the web. An ultra-high poly model of a large structure would need considerable work to retopologise and optimise it for viewing on the web, and in AR sessions.
The interior of the pyramid required a different approach. This time we created a basic block-out of the 3D space using the correct dimensions. Google Brand Studio had sourced high-resolution photography of the interior and we married the 3D model to these photographic textures.
This wasn’t as simple as it sounds; it required adjusting the images to fit with minimal distortion and using them as the basis for normal maps that allowed the detail of the walls to literally leap from the model with manually sculpted protrusions adding yet more depth and immersion to the scene.
As the 3D was coming together independently of Google Brand Studio’s own work on the web experience, the project relied on close collaboration and communication between all parties. Aside from running the models in a test Three.js environment to see how they performed in a web browser, our main reference were some superb storyboard documents supplied by Google Brand Studio that explained how the 3D and AR components fitted into the overall ‘scrollytelling’ UX.
When we got to try the end result we were thrilled with how cohesive the entire experience was and just what a good introduction it is to the Pyramids of Meroë.
The project was launched by Google Arts & Culture, in partnership with UNESCO; for Draw & Code this was the third time we have worked on a project related to a UNESCO World Heritage site – although the others were a little closer to home. Read about one of the other projects here.