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DHCC Going Digital at Winterthur

November 6, 2013 —

Fashion Goes Digital“Material and Ethereal: A Mixed Reality Exhibition of Fashion from 1929-1939,” is an exhibition that will combine selections of historic fashion from the Drexel Historic Costume Collection with state of the art interactive and immersive 3D displays at the wonderful Winterthur Museum Garden & Library. The exhibit will run from August 2016, through early January 2017. Life-size simulations of selected fashions will populate a detailed 3D environment modeled on a Winterthur grand room. “Magic Mirror” technology will create a virtual character of the viewer and dress it in the simulated historic fashion.

For the past five years, Fashion Design Professor Kathi Martin has been part of an international team of fashion specialists and computer and information scientists engaged in researching virtual humans and avatars, and their roles in fashion design and conservation of cultural heritage. She first approached Winterthur with the idea of a mixed reality exhibition in 2008. Museums are using 3D technology to transform how they document, analyze and create access to their collections. These technologies provide a means to explore complex ideas and interact with museums’ objects in new ways, and to share these fresh discoveries with teachers, collaborators and the public. 

Working with Clare Sauro, curator of the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, the focus of the exhibition became fashion from 1929-1939, a period which saw the birth of the “American Look” in fashion, forged around the identity of the individual and that of America across motifs of modernity, unity and progress. The DHCC has many fine representations of fashion design and ephemera from this period. Sauro is developing the physical exhibition content to showcase these objects.

Historic accuracy is a prime driver in Martin’s work in 3D simulation. Measurements are taken from the historic piece. She then makes patterns from these measurements in a software program, the Digital Clothing Suite, being developed by her colleagues at Seoul National University, South Korea, where Martin has been a visiting researcher since 2008. Next, material properties of the fabric are defined, textile surface details added, and the garment is simulated and rendered in the software. The result is realistic drape and motion of the fabric. Even with this advanced technology, recreating accurate fabric movement digitally is still a long and detail-oriented process, especially for fashion professionals Martin and Sauro who are determined to capture the physical and aesthetic subtleties of the DHCC treasures. In addition to realizing the garment, to do so requires a body that not only matches the size of the garment but captures the posture, gait and look of a 1930s socialite. Martin and Animation & Visual Effects Professor Dave Mauriello teamed up, with support from a Drexel mini-grant awarded last spring, to create a historically accurate, digitally animated model inspired by 1930s American actress Carole Lombard. 

While Mauriello went to work on creating the model that will wear the DHCC ensembles, Martin and Sauro hired a professional model to map complex skeletal movements for a virtual model in our Motion Capture studio. They chose a model similar in stature and girth to the original owner of the gown, inferred from the pattern specifications. They purchased period undergarments and shoes for the model to wear under the motion capture suit worn during the motion session and studied period movies and stills to choreograph a scenario of 1930s motion. “It was difficult work for the model to move naturally. This is a fairly new process for this kind of fashion application and I’m sure we had much more fun on our side of the computer screen”, says Mauriello. “We aim to create a best practices model for the process,” states Martin. 

Mauriello will have to animate the virtual model’s hair and facial movements manually, so he’s creating a digital face from scratch based on 1930s American actress Carole Lombard. “In the digital media world, there’s a lot of work and focus on creating visually appealing digital models, but very few of them get animated,” Mauriello says. “There’s a lot of work involved in creating natural movement in digital animation, especially with joint flexing and elbow movements.”

Assisting Mauriello in the motion capture and transfer of data to the virtual model were Digital Media undergraduates Stephen Pettit and James Maguire, along with Digital Media graduate program alum, Glenn Winters, who just finished an internship as a Motion Capture Technician at Sony Computer Entertainment America. They needed to layer the motion capture data over the more complex rig they had created for animating virtual model. “The motion capture process generates a basic rig, but that alone is inadequate for all of our needs,” says Mauriello. “The complex rig has finer controls for more intricate character movements for areas like the face and hands along with better control of body deformations like in the hips and shoulders. It’s no small task connecting the motion capture rig to our complex rig.”

This work is the basis of an organic modeling course Mauriello teaches at Drexel, as well as a book he is currently writing for Focal Press, exploring accurate human modeling for animation. In September, Martin and Mauriello presented a paper, titled “3D Simulations: A New Embodiment for Historic Fashion,” at the International Conference on Culture and Computing held at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. In October they presented “Motion and Embodiment” at the Digital Heritage International Congress 2013, at the new waterfront complex for international cultural dialogue and exchanges in the Mediterranean, in Marseille, France. Martin also co-authored « Digital Production of Traditional Costume », presented at the same conference. 

Mauriello also shared production applications of his research and creative works into organic modeling for animation by conducting workshops on “3D Modeling for Animation with Maya & Modo” at the Association of Medical Illustrators Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City this past June. He is currently working with Digital Media program colleagues and students on other digital anatomy projects, including the building of a virtual heart and a neonatal “smart” simulator.


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