The Virtual Artifact Gallery

This virtual gallery is a VR experience featuring real objects captured using photogrammetry, accompanied by their mundane and iconic representations from popular video games.

I originally had an idea to curate a similar non-virtual gallery, which would include samples of real textures alongside their renderings in different styles of 2D illustration. I wanted to isolate and highlight the process of reconstructing tangible perception in a medium as abstracted as lines on paper. I eventually found that the variations between styles weren’t cohesive enough to create the type of collection I wanted, so I thought of collecting 3D models; specifically low-polygon models created for video games. This processing-efficient modeling is a medium that is abstracted enough by its limited detail, yet can assume endless varieties of recognizable forms. It also incorporates some of the gestural aspects of illustration that I was originally intending to capture, through both 2D image textures and 3D virtual forms.

I thought of using video game models for my typology when I was browsing  The Models Resource looking for models to use for a different experiment. This site hosts 3D models that have been ripped from popular video games. I first noticed that a lot of the models had been optimized for rendering efficiency and had interesting ways of illustrating detail using as little information as possible.

The following are some of the titles from which I sourced models:

  • Mario Party 4 [2002] – Wario’s Hamburger
  • SpongeBob SquarePants Employee of the Month [2002] – Krusty Krab Hat
  • SpongeBob SquarePants Revenge of the Flying Dutchman [2002] – Krusty Krab Bag
  • Scooby-Doo Night of 100 Frights [2002] – Hamburger
  • Garry’s Mod [2004] – Burger
  • Mario Kart DS [2005] – Luigi’s Cap,
  • Dead Rising [2006] – Cardboard Box
  • Little Big Planet [2008] – Baseball Cap
  • Nintendogs Cats [2011] – Cardboard Box, Paper Bag
  • The Lab [2016] – Cardboard Box
  • Animal Crossing Pocket Camp [2017] – Paper Bag

I decided to use photogrammetry to translate the physical objects into virtual space. I wanted to contextualize these existing game artifacts which had been stripped from their intended contexts alongside virtual objects which we might consider to be “more real” due to being representations of photography, rather than abstract 3D illustration.

I think that this collection of hamburgers is the most jarring, as it frames a convincing representation of processed food as the rigidly designed product it truly is. The bun of this McDonald’s double cheeseburger was stamped by a ring out of a sheet of dough, the patty was stamped into a circle by another mold and the cheese was cut or sliced into a regular square – all automated processes of physical manufacturing done with the intent of assembling this product for somebody’s consumption. The way that a hamburger is modeled this way in 3D is a pretty similar process.

I noted that many of the examples I found were mostly or entirely symmetrical. I think this symmetry reflects some of the physical ideals of the products we interact with and consume. A virtual object can exist in an absolutely defined state, rather than existing as physical expressions of design, only as similar one-to-the-next as required by manufacturing tolerances. These tolerances exist in most of the objects we interact with, and even the food we consume. We seem to use symmetry to indicate the intentionality of an object’s existence, which coincidentally or not, is also found in ourselves and most organisms. When a video game character is designed asymmetrically, it is usually done so deliberately to call attention to some internal imbalance or juxtaposition.

In retrospect, the disruptions of the photogrammetry – especially in the empty box model – seemed to manifest the essence of our fleeting, tangible perceptions of certain objects compared to others. The items that served as packaging for a product, to be discarded or recycled, are missing information as if easily forgotten.

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