Building the Models
The synagogue reconstruction was necessarily based on sketchy information. The 50 students involved in the project had to piece together a coherent picture from a few plans of the buildings, old postcards and photos, and statements from witnesses who recalled being in the buildings many decades ago.
The students began their modeling work by transferring the existing source material into 2D computer drawings, using drafting software. Then they imported the 2D drawings into the Maya animation package through the DXF interface. They used the 2D drawings as templates for creating the 3D building components.
To apply surface textures, they first created a "wallpaper" sample of a surface in an image editing program and stored it as an image file. Then they projected the digital image onto the model's surface. This method is particularly suited to one-off motifs such as wall frescos.
To represent large areas of a single material, they applied the wallpaper to a small representative area. Then they invoked the software's random generator to duplicate the texture over a large area without the repeated patterns that tend to mar computer renderings. Despite being digitally generated, no two stones look alike.
In Maya, surfaces and components are "object-based," so it's possible to alter the settings for an entire building or for specific parts of a building with one mouse click. The settings only need to be specified once but can be easily changed if new information becomes available. In addition, colors can be assigned to layers, so that red surfaces can be quickly changed to dark green, for example.
Let There Be Light
After the building components and surfaces were modeled, the students applied effects of light and shadow. Maya can display beams of light shining into a building interior in a way that simulates a realistically dusty atmosphere. Shadows were calculated using Maya's "depth-match-shadows" function, which projects the outlines of objects onto the ground.
Finally, the students created individual perspective views and animated film sequences. The changing vistas and the consistent proportions in the 3D animations make them more compelling than still-frame renderings or animations that show only the exteriors of buildings.
Producing all the different changes in perspective required about 2,000 person/hours per synagogue, as well as a vast amount of computing resource. Koob notes that until a few years ago, it wouldn't have been possible to create such complex CAD structures, in which all the building components are reproduced individually in 3D and combined in a modular construction system. He credits Maya's combination of power and user-friendliness for the success of the project.
While work continues at Darmstadt University on the virtual synagogues, Professor Koob is already developing new and ambitious projects. Through digital models, he is recreating the unique cityscape of Venice, displaying not only the buildings and the interplay of light, water, and mist, but also interpreting the city's history of trade, art, and politics.
In the meantime, 18 cities and institutions in Germany have expressed interest in Koob's exhibition of virtual synagogues, which has gone on display at the National Gallery in Bonn and at Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, in Tel Aviv.
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Gisela Brunner is marketing manager for Maya in Germany. Copyright for all images: © Darmstadt University of Technology, Department CAD in Architecture, Manfred Koob.