My project as a Studio fellow this summer is to create a 3D model of an ancient Roman water fountain, commonly known as the “Auditorium of Maecenas,” with the goal to understand this space as a holistic, multisensorial environment.
I believe there is an interesting paradox in creating immersive, sensorially-rich digital reconstructions. As more and more people interact with their digital screens, there is a demand for virtual visits to ancient sites that are not readily accessible, and the proliferation of virtual and augmented reality technology has increased this demand. At the same time, digital sensory experiences distance us from physical engagement with the sites. Beyond this paradox, Ancient Art History and Archaeology have always had a love/hate relationship with 3D reconstructions of buildings like the Auditorium, especially when they are created by those without an academic background. More often than not these types of reconstructions are deemed “too flashy” and unworthy of academic consideration. The ubiquity of populist 3D visualizations with enticing colors, textures, and artistic imaginations filled with sensorial stimuli unfortunately divides scholars and lay audiences, who have different educational backgrounds and approaches to archaeological sites.
If the accuracy is what scholars cherish, how do we reconcile the differences between academic models and flamboyant artistic reimaginations? The early stages of my project directly engage with this question as I reconstruct the faded colors and figures in the wall paintings that are over 2000 years old. Excavation reports and remaining fragments provide basic ideas about what the paintings would have looked like, but in order to replicate their rich and evocative nature, I have to take some informed artistic liberties if I want to recreate a sensory-rich environment that is both educational and experiential. This is currently being done through cross-referencing similar subject matter in contemporary Roman paintings. (This process is long and arduous, which makes me wonder if a database of ancient Roman wall paintings could be developed to create a digital version of picture books that the Roman painters might have used.) Once I have determined the correct color scheme of the paintings, I reconstruct the paintings—or drawings of these paintings if they are now lost—in Photoshop. Eventually, I will be using these reconstructed wall paintings and textures to decorate a 3D model in 3Ds Max.
Even with the technological advancements in 3D modeling and the wide array of software options available, access to these tools like 3Ds Max during a pandemic would not have been possible without the remote access to a powerful desktop computer in the Studio (I am grateful for my point of contact Ethan DeGross for suggesting this option). I am quite excited to see how the project would unfold in the coming weeks.
Overall, sensorial explorations are just as important as archaeological data when creating 3D models as operative tools for understanding historical spaces. I would like to conclude my thoughts with the quote from the co-director of the UCLA Experiential Technologies Center Diane Favro, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a sound worth? Or a smell? Or a texture? Or a movement? Or a feeling? Or a space? For me the human reactions to time, space, and architecture are worth 1000 rebirthings.” 
 Favro, D. 2010. “From Pleasure, to ‘Guilty Pleasure,’ to Simulation: Rebirthing the Villa of the Papyri.” In The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum: Archaeology, Reception, and Digital Reconstruction, edited by M. Zarmakoupi, 155-180. New York: De Gruyter.