Development and Use of 3D Virtual Reality Movies in an Online Fossil Museum

WOODS, Justin A., Information Services, Southwestern Adventist University, 100 Magnolia, Keene, TX 76059, justin@woodsmedia.com,
THOMAS, Daryl, Computer Science, Southwestern Adventist University, 100 Magnolia, Keene, TX 76059, and
CHADWICK, Arthur V., Geology, Southwestern Adventist University, 100 Magnolia, Keene, TX 76059

The SWAU Online Fossil Museum contains information and photographs for approximately 10,000 dinosaur bones excavated from an Upper Cretaceous site in Wyoming. The Museum features a number of innovations, including the ability to visualize the position of each bone in the bone bed. Recently, the Online Fossil Museum was redesigned in an effort to improve our ability to communicate these data with the general public, educational institutions, and professional paleontologists. It became apparent that even with multiple photographs available, some aspects of a fossil were lost in two-dimensional representations. The solution appeared to be to find a convenient way to display the bones in three dimensions.

The production and creation of 3D virtual reality movies involves taking a series of photographs of an object from various positions, then compiling these into a Quicktime movie. To facilitate the production of these photographs, we developed a computer-controlled rotating platform capable of supporting the largest bones we encounter. This enables us to photograph specimens and convert the images into QTVR movies in just under four minutes per specimen. The rotational timing is constrained by the reset times on the flash units we employ, and allows enough time for the post-processing of the images and creation of the movie. We can process an average of 15 specimens per hour. At present we have generated and posted 3D QTVR images for over 1,000 specimens. All new specimens are photographed using this technique, and we continue to process existing specimens in this manner as time permits.

One limitation of QTVR is that the movie size is restricted to the users' screen viewing area, so that zooming of the whole image is not possible. To compensate for this, we post several of the 32 original high-resolution photographs from which the QTVR movie is generated, allowing higher resolution viewing. The addition of three-dimensional specimen images to the Online Fossil Museum is a substantial improvement in the functionality of the site, enabling other investigators to examine the specimens remotely as 3D objects.

The Online Fossil Museum is accessible at: http://geology.swau.edu/fossil/

poster presentation at the GSA 2007 meeting, Denver, CO, Oct 2007.