Prof. Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann, George Papagiannakis, Marlène Arévalo, …


Virtual life in Pompei

LifePlus_scene 1_Octavia

LifePlus_scene 1_Octavia

Content Description

“Within the EU, addressing the issues posed by the preservation, re-use and access to our intellectual capital will form the cornerstone of future economic growth and development. Access to these assets is essential for the education and improved quality of life of its citizens” . (1)

LIFEPLUS proposes an innovative 3D reconstruction of ancient frescos-paintings through the real-time revival of their fauna and flora, featuring groups of virtual animated characters with artificial life dramaturgical behaviours, in an immersive AR environment. By its very nature, LIFEPLUS is a highly interdisciplinary project involving computer vision, computer graphics, user interfaces, human factors, wearable computing, mobile computing, computer networks, distributed computing, information access and information visualization.


Since antiquity, images were used as records of both events-lifestyles, as well as decorations. The possibility of reviving them will add a new dimension in understanding our past. However, the recreation of historic environments for serious study, education and entertainment is not new (2) although the methods for achieving the objectives have evolved considerably over time. Before the days of widespread books and printing, story tellers would conjure up visions of events and places, providing their listeners with an impression of realities (often augmented realities) elsewhere in time and space. Theatre, fine art and cinema have added to the richness of the explicit visual experience available to the viewer. They have made the interpretations of history more accessible to the general public, but at the same time narrowing the individual’s scope for personalised, interactive experience and visualisation of the description of it.

Therefore, for the application of technology to heritage to become a viable historical recreation tool, a combination of technological, economic and creative challenges must be overcome. Potentially a Virtual Reality-based heritage experience gives the visitor the opportunity to feel they are present at significant places and times in the past and use a variety of senses to experience what it would have felt like to be there. However, a review of the range of projects on the internet described as Virtual Heritage (3), shows numerous examples of virtual environments build as reconstructions of historic sites but sterile and devoid of population. Engaging characters that are needed in an interactive experience are now slowly coming into focus with recent EU funded IST projects (Charismatic ) (4). The main reason for their slow adoption is due to a) the incapability of current VR rendering technology for realistic, entertaining, interactive and engaging synthetic characters and b) lack of interesting interaction paradigms for character-based installations. Historical frescos are a unique arrangement of “mise-en-scene” elements that enhance the user experience by creating a set of compelling narrative patterns, alas however in a static, two-dimensional way. The word "narrative” refers to a set of events happening during a certain period of time and providing aesthetic, dramaturgical and emotional elements, objects and attitudes (5). Mixing such aesthetic ambiences with virtual augmentations and adding dramatic tension, can develop these narrative patterns into an exciting new edutainment medium.

Therefore, LIFEPLUS proposes new development for the innovative revival of life in ancient frescos-paintings and creation of narrative spaces. The revival is based on real scenes captured on live video sequences augmented with real-time autonomous groups of 3D virtual fauna and flora. The metaphor, which will inspire the project approach, is oriented to make the "transportation in fictional and historical spaces", as depicted by frescos-paintings, as realistic, immersive and interactive as possible. For that purpose, LIFEPLUS will aim to position itself between the extremes of real life and Virtual Reality, in the spectrum of "Mixed Reality" (6) and especially Augmented Reality (AR), in which views of the real world are combined in some proportion with specific graphic enhancements or augmentations. Apart for Virtual Heritage, LIFEPLUS aims to address the following emerging market needs:

- Tourism and Education-Entertainment (Edutainment).
Novel operational paradigms (immersive AR virtual life) for edutainment experiences are preconditions for economic viability for all types of future Cultural and memory Institutions, Location-Based Entertainments and E-visitor Attractions.

- On set visualization & Virtual Studio:
Film studios currently shoot films expecting to add in computer generated (CG) effects such as backgrounds, dinosaurs or CG characters later. Directors would benefit from the ability to see in real time or very soon afterwards an overlay of real and planned CG elements to decide whether the composition is acceptable. Broadcasters are also currently seeking to expand the use of virtual life in live broadcasts (e.g. Ananova) (7).

The project is defining new models-tools and affordable solutions for 3D virtual life simulations in AR environments with emphasis on two real-time commercialised end-products:
a) a mobile AR on-site guide based on immersive wearable computing
b) a middleware architecture of self-contained SDKs and APIs.

Innovative research will extend the state of the art of technologies developed in IST and other research projects for:
a) Real-time camera tracking in unknown environments (ENREVI project)
b) Immersive on-site guides based on mobile-AR units (ARCHEOGUIDE, ARVIKA)
c) Introduction of virtual humans in mixed reality environments (STAR) and synthesize a new real-time framework that will allow virtual fauna and flora to enhance real environments in AR for, a new breed of innovative edutainment experiences.


1 Ross, S. 1997. ‘Consensus, communication, and collaboration: fostering multidisciplinary cooperation in electronic records’, in INSAR (Supplement II), Proceedings of the DLM-Forum on electronic records, p. 336

2 Computer Graphics and Archaeology: Realism and Symbiosis, David Arnold, Charismatic project,

3 Virtual Heritage Network,


5 Nandi A., Marichal X., "Transfiction", proceedings of Virtual Reality International Conference, Laval May 2000.

6 Milgram P., et al. "Augmented Reality: a class of displays on the reality-virtuality continuum", SPIE Volume 2351: Telemanipulator and Telepresence Technologies, 1994.

7 ANANOVA, was provided with the information above by MIRALab. However large parts have been published before:

George Papagiannakis, Michael Ponder, Tom Molet, Sumedha Kshirsagar, Frederic Cordier, Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann, Daniel Thalmann: LIFEPLUS: Revival of life in ancient Pompeii. Virtual Systems and Multimedia, SMM2002-invited paper, October 2002 )