Public Art with Augmented Reality and Blender

Augmented reality artist/developer, Nathan Shafer, has plans to illustrate the history of Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska via 3D modeling using popular open source modeling software, Blender. The finished result will allow young scientists, school children, and other visitors to use mobile devices equipped with Shafer’s app to view reconstructions of the 5 former termini that were present before the significant, visible shrinkage that illustrates the larger issue of glacial recession.

In Shafer’s words:

I make digital pieces and upload them into the real world. I am modeling in Blender, because it has proven to be the most dynamic and efficient 3D program for what I do.  In AR the name of the game is efficiency.  5000 polygons is about the max for any model in a browser.  I am building some models that are literally 3 miles long, so I have to condense.  I am using geodata provided by Kenai Fjords National Park to generate NURBS that will approximate the height of the glacier, sort of give me a box to work in.  The look of the glacier is being rendered using a mix of plug-ins and lightning effects, which oddly enough never look the way you want them to when they translate into an AR browser and get the real world all around them.  The model is being skinned with actual photos of the glacier using the node-based compositor and textures, after that is done, we want a scanline rendering that runs an algorithm calculating the actual sun over the virtual model (hopefully in real time, which is very hard).

There is going to be some Python scripting for interactive features on the models, but I am playing with the notion of using more of Blender’s gaming features, which I have never used before on this. In the finished mobile AR app, dates will be displayed floating in situ, in virtual mobile space, when the dates are touched, the terminus from that era will appear.   Most other scripting will be done in Javascript, and AR usually requires JSON response on the back end, which we are using a Linux server to manage.

Shafer is using Kickstarter, the popular fundraising site to fund his project, and you can read more about it there.

Or check out this video:


Katherine Druckman, a self-described Drupal fangirl, is the Director of Digital Experience at Linux Journal. She’s an HTML-flinging, PHP-hacking ​webmistress by day, and a refined connoisseur of historic architecture and fine Chinese ceramics by night. She usually can be found surrounded by the charm of aging Texas buildings from the pioneer days or appreciating ceramics of the Song and Qing dynasties.

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