Initially, the landscape was described to be more of an approximation. However, as the project progressed it became clear that the accuracy needed to be there. Finding topological maps of the area of Stowe Ville was somewhat of a challenge, to begin with I thought I could try to use historical aerial maps, but those were hard to come by.

There was a great little website that has somewhat accurate temperature-based height maps of the entire area encompassing all three of the sites (https://en-ca.topographic-map.com/maps/qeu/Whitchurch-Stouffville/). From these heightmaps, I was able to approximate sea level elevations for all of the high and low points. I started by looking at a larger scale map, which was a 5km x 9km area.

From the heat maps, I had to convert everything to grayscale so that it could be read in as a proper heightmap into the world-building software I used to generate my final textures for the Unreal Engine. I realized that the 5km x 9km dimensions were far too big to maintain the level of detail we would need for the much smaller area of the sites. I tried a  2km x 3km but ended up settling on a 2km x 2km scale. I also discovered that I needed to exaggerate the darkness of the river areas so that that detail wasn’t lost when adding things like erosion. To ensure that I was using the correct scale and that the village was placed correctly, I overlaid it in Photoshop to precisely the right size. I also brought this 2km x 2km map into Maya, where I then generated a template of the village that will be later used to place the longhouses in the Unreal Engine.

To generate the surface is I used World Creator (https://www.world-creator.com/) at first, but I was struggling to get the quality I was looking for. I decided to change gears and use Gaea (https://quadspinner.com/) which is a newer software but was able to give me what I was looking for.

Matching scale as precisely as possible was important because I wasn’t sure how much work would need to be done in Maya and then transferred to Unreal. So, I exported the geometry from Gaea to Maya to make sure it was exactly 2km x 2km. And then from Maya I sent the environment to Unreal to use a guide when generating an Unreal Environment, which has benefits such as distance-based LODs so that the geometry would become reduced the further it got from the viewer. A static mesh couldn’t do this.

Getting the Unreal environment to match was fairly easy because 1px = 1 meter. So my map resolution of 2017 x 2017 equalled 2.017 km by 2.017 km. This was slightly larger than I needed but after playing with the values I was able to nudge down the scale (99.5 in both X and Y) to exactly the proper dimensions. The height was trickier but a value of 16 seemed to do the trick.

This is an image of the template I created in Maya brought into the Unreal Engine.

I used Substance Alchemist to created a palette of tileable textures, that I then brought into Substance Painter to give them the painterly look. That I then used in Unreal to custom paint the ground around the Mantel Site.

Published by Kris Howald

I was immersed into the world of virtual archeology for my Masters Research Project at Ryerson University.  The focus of this project was the digital reconstruction of the el-Hibeh temple in Egypt.  After four months I believe I was able to demonstrate the potential this medium has to offer as a way of bridging the past and present. I'm currently visualizing the past, present, and future of a pre-contact indigenous community.

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