Responses by Media.Monks.
Background: Persepolis Reimagined seeks to bring the rich heritage of ancient Iran to a worldwide audience, using modern technology to make the past come alive. As part of the sweeping Getty Villa exhibition, Persia: Ancient Iran and the Classical World, we created an immersive WebGL experience that transports visitors to Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire. By exploring a magnificently detailed 3-D re-creation developed with the J. Paul Getty Museum, visitors witness the stunning palaces and towering statues of the citadel at the height of its splendor. In reviving one of history’s greatest wonders, we aimed to balance entertainment, awe and education while exemplifying Getty’s mission to “advance and share the world’s visual art and cultural heritage for the benefit of all.”
Just as Persepolis once received envoys from across the ancient world, so is the website open to all audiences. Persepolis Reimagined also aims to give the Iranian community and diaspora the opportunity to walk in the steps of their ancestors and see the Persian Empire’s achievements up close.
Design core: The virtual reconstruction portrays Persepolis as it might have existed 2,500 years ago at its most majestic. Atmospheric sound design, evocative lighting and art direction, and layers of historical detail make for an experience as informative as it is immersive.
Through an intuitive interface, visitors can explore the 3-D reconstruction and discover lavish palaces and statues, hidden gardens, and vast plazas. They can also listen to audio recordings of inscriptions found on the citadel’s walls, read in-depth articles about the culture of the Persian Empire, and see art objects from the Getty Villa exhibition in the context of the rooms and reliefs of Persepolis.
Challenges: Achieving a photorealistic representation of a city-scale subject. While allowing the user to explore details on a human scale proved to be the biggest challenge. We wanted the file-size requirements and device-processing ability to be less demanding and the same for mobile and desktop users. This meant that the toolbox we normally reach into to create realism in WebGL was limited. Things like lighting and surface details had to be baked into a single diffuse texture, using reflection, roughness and normal maps only where necessary. Within these limitations, our extremely talented development team delivered a historically accurate, first-of-its-kind large-scale structure with intricate details that could be enjoyed as if the user had been transported back in time to the actual site.
Time constraints: Persepolis was built over the course of 30 years, and our brief was to work with Getty to re-create this historical monument in a completely new way over the course of months. To ideate the best way to resurrect history, we met weekly with Getty curators and historians to identify key aspects of Persepolis’s rich, detailed history and think through accurate representations that could resonate with modern audiences. The UX was uniquely designed to transport users back in time, with a focus on a craft that would truly feel real.
Navigation structure: Beyond the accuracy and fidelity of the 3-D model, the website also offers a dynamic, engaging user experience. We designed a simple scrolling interface to give visitors a guided tour through the passageways, columned entrances and open courtyards of Persepolis, mirroring the actual path through the citadel that emissaries would have followed in ancient times.
We also wanted to allow for nonlinear exploration so that site visitors can investigate Perspolis themselves. This is why we added a global map view, which lets visitors jump between sectors of the citadel, and clickable hotspots with optional audio and text content, all of which can be encountered in any order.
Technology: Building an accurate 3-D representation of Persepolis was a lengthy, meticulous process, completed in close partnership with The Getty, which sourced an architecturally accurate base model for the experience piece. With the museum’s curators and historians, our design and 3-D art teams spent months striving to accurately depict even the tiniest architectural details, paint pigments and wall textures, all while optimizing the 3-D model for web use.
Given the citadel’s size, we knew it would be impossible to load the whole model at once on a browser. So, we had to be smart and efficient about what elements and buildings we needed to show. Using our WebGL and Vue FE frameworks, which we have developed over years of creating immersive websites, we carefully optimized our model and code in both WebGL and HTML/CSS, ultimately achieving the perfect balance of performance and audiovisual experience.