Spotlight Heritage Timisoara

Interactive Virtual Reality Applications for Timișoara

by Silviu Vert & Marius Tătaru, Politehnica University of Timișoara, Romania.

The stories of Timișoara, Romania churches, explored in a virtual space

The International Spotlight Heritage Student Contest, ISHSC 2021, was organised in order to further develop the Spotlight Heritage Timișoara project, part of the Timișoara 2023 European Capital of Culture. The contest was organised between October and December 2021, fully remote, by three universities from three different European countries: Politehnica University of Timișoara (Romania), Aalborg Universitet (Denmark) and Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia (Italy). It demonstrated how local cultural heritage can be explored and enriched through international collaboration, the development of digital storytelling for educational purposes and how this can be used as a project-based learning technique within virtual reality, developing future skills for university students.

The winning applications contained four virtual tours of two churches from Timișoara, in a 3D virtual space with 360 images, old and new pictures, audio elements, as well as information about the history and architecture of the buildings, and the art objects inside them (paintings, stained glass windows, organs inside the churches), but also about the historical characters who left their mark in the construction, design, and development of Timișoara’s buildings. All of these elements are integrated into an interactive and unique virtual reality application that the visitor can use to explore churches through digital storytelling artefacts in virtual reality. The applications are publicly available on the CospacesEdu web and mobile platform and are in the process of being published on the Oculus Quest store.

The International Spotlight Heritage Student Contest 2021 is part of the digital culture project Spotlight Heritage Timișoara, co-financed by the Timișoara City Hall, Timis County Council. This cultural initiative reveals, by digital storytelling, the city of Timișoara, Romania, through official stories of cultural and historical heritage, but also the personal stories of its inhabitants.

ISHSC and International Student Digital Storytellers

Students from three universities in Europe took the challenge to create novel multimedia and virtual reality artefacts based on open data from the Spotlight Heritage Timișoara. The contest required that students work in international teams either from 2 or from all 3 universities, the organisers being prepared to set up (if needed) a mix & match session between students after all project ideas were submitted.

Spotlight Heritage Timisoara meeting screenshot
Meeting screenshot

The contest required the students to create a digital storytelling artefact in virtual reality or augmented reality with Spotlight Heritage resources, using the existing multimedia artefacts, text, and stories, and integrating them into a virtual reality/augmented reality experience.

Moreover, the students were encouraged to create other multimedia or digital artefacts (e.g. 3D images), to integrate other functionalities or connect with their local/national/international stories. The resources used by the participants in a raw fromat are also available publicly on a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, in Romanian and English, on the Spotlight Heritage Timișoara website and in its mobile applications for Android and iOS.

Three teams won the contest, two of them having 1 student from each of the three universities. The teams used Email, Zoom and Discord to coordinate themselves and communicate between them and with the organisers. The applications were created in Blender, Unity and Cospaces Edu, platforms where the students worked collaboratively.

The winning students had complementary skills:

● The UniMoRe, Italy students are part of the specialization of “Heritage Education and Digital Technologies”. They came up with the narrative for the story, combining existing elements in a virtual story and extending them with their own ideas.

● The AAU, Denmark students are part of the specialization “Games (Medialogy)”. They implemented the main structure of the virtual story, the interactions, and the animations.

● The UPT, Romania students are part of the specialization “Multimedia Technologies”. They created the 3D models for the buildings and monuments, integrated the 360 photos, glued everything together in Unity, and provided information on the Spotlight Heritage Timișoara places, people, and connections, from the perspective of the locals.

The interactive virtual reality application developed within the International Spotlight Heritage Student Contest 2021 was also a finalist in the 2022 edition of the MEDEA Awards, submitted by the Politehnica University of Timișoara, Romania, and represented by Silviu Vert & Marius Tătaru, during the awarding ceremony of the awards, which took place on June 2, in Leuven City Hall, as part of the Media & Learning Conference 2022 organised by KU Leuven and the Media & Learning Association.

Authors

Silviu Vert (left) & Marius Tătaru (right), Politehnica University of Timișoara, Romania

Click on the links provided to access the digital components of the applications: