Artefacts

Underground crane - 3D modelling

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During the summer of 2016, we were invited to contribute towards an exhibition being held in October and November by the Corsham Institute. The theme of the exhibition was the history of Bath Stone in the Corsham region, combined with a digital multimedia perspective.

We decided to try to combine our knowledge and skills:

  • My knowledge of the old underground quarries at Box, and specifically the cranes that still lie dormant there;
  • My son's skills in 3D computer modelling using Blender, the open-source graphics software.

This is the crane that we modelled, which is in Box's Clift quarry.

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From the Victorian times onwards, cranes were an essential part of the quarrying process in the underground Bath Stone quarries. They were used to lift the blocks of stone cut from the working face onto carts, which were then pulled to the surface by horse or donkey; or later, the transport was provided by small locomotives.

The main structure of the cranes was wooden, with metal gearing and fixings. They could lift blocks of around 5 tonnes. A crane would be erected in a new working area until all the stone within its reach had been quarried. Then it would be dismantled, moved along to a new area, and re-erected to continue working.

We spent a considerable amount of time using Blender to create a 3D model of the crane. thumbnail From this we created two digital artefacts for the exhibition:

  • A 3-minute animation featuring our Blender model. The crane is as accurate to the original as we could achieve in the time available, whereas the background setting in which we placed it was quickly assembled and is not modelled on any particular part of Clift quarry.
  • An OpenGL export of the Blender model for a web-based interactive view (be patient: this is 40MB and can take a few moments to load into the web browser).
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The OpenGL model was created using Blend4Web. This is still very much work in progress, as although we were mightily impressed with what Blend4Web generated from the Blender model, there are some odd rendering effects that show we have more to learn. Nevertheless, we felt it was worth sharing in its current form.