3D Restoration of Ivanovo's Rock-Hewn Church

3D Restoration of Ivanovo's Rock-Hewn Church

28 November 2023

Introduction to the Rock-Hewn Church

As a 3D artists, delving into the restoration of the Rock-Hewn Church of Ivanovo was like embarking on a journey through the corridors of time. This ancient marvel, nestled in the heart of Bulgaria, whispered tales of a rich history and cultural significance. The challenge of bringing this historical gem back to life in the digital realm was not just a technical endeavor but a passionate pursuit to resurrect the spirit of a bygone era. The Rock-Hewn Church, with its intricate carvings and sacred ambiance, became a canvas for our artistic exploration. Each pixel painstakingly placed was a step towards capturing the essence of this cultural treasure. In this blog post, join us as we unravel the story of how our 3D studio breathed new life into the weathered stones of Ivanovo, blending technology and artistry to revive a piece of history for generations to come.

Embarking on the restoration of the Rock-Hewn Church of Ivanovo presented a tapestry of challenges that fueled our artistic ingenuity. From the weathered marks of time to the intricate details of ancient frescos, each nuance posed a unique obstacle that demanded both historical understanding and technical finesse. The structural complexities of the rock-hewn architecture required meticulous attention to ensure accuracy in our 3D representation. Unraveling the mysteries of the past and deciphering the original design compelled us to collaborate closely with historians and archaeologists. As 3D artists, we found ourselves not only navigating the digital realm but also delving into the annals of history, where every crack and crevice told a story waiting to be retold. The restoration journey became a dance between honoring the authenticity of the site and pushing the boundaries of digital craftsmanship, ultimately transforming challenges into triumphs in the pursuit of preserving cultural heritage.

Historical preservation 3D modeling

Back in 2021 we worked on the 3D virtual restoration of two cultural heritage sites here in Bulgaria for the Regional Museum of History - Ruse. The final products are VR experiences that are now exhibited in the museum.

In this promotional video, we present the church "Holy Virgin" near Ivanovo (Bulgaria). It took us more than seven months to complete the project while closely working with the experts from the museum and all of the data gathered through the years.  

The production had three distinct phases.
1. Scanning, gathering data and understanding everything about the site and its history.
2. Creating a 3D digital double of the site. In this phase we created a VR experience that showcases the digital double of the church. This part of the project was very important because the weather conditions and human activity have to a large part destroyed the site. By creating the 3D digital double we made sure that the church is immortalized.
3. The restoration based on hypothesis phase was a great challenge. Since most of the details and graphics on the walls were destroyed, we had to recreate them with the help of the work of many experts, who have spent dacades in research and study of the church.

It was an amazing experience to work on such an interesting project related to the preservation and popularization of Bulgarian cultural heritage. We, are continuing to expand our reach and work with more and more museums in Europe to truly bring the glorious past of the cultural heritage sites to life! 

Gathering the 3D Data

In our quest to breathe life into the Rock-Hewn Church of Ivanovo, we harnessed cutting-edge technology as our artistic arsenal. Armed with the precision of the Artec Leo scanner and Artec Ray, we embarked on a meticulous journey of capturing every nook and cranny of this ancient marvel. The Artec Leo, with its handheld agility, allowed us to navigate the intricacies of the church's interior, capturing the fine details of centuries-old carvings with unparalleled accuracy. Venturing beyond the stone walls, the DJI Mini drone took flight, mapping the outer rock cliff surfaces with a bird's-eye perspective, revealing the site's grandeur in its entirety. This fusion of handheld and aerial scanning technologies became the brushstrokes of our digital canvas, ensuring that no facet of the Rock-Hewn Church was left uncharted. As 3D artists, the synergy between traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge scanning tools became the heartbeat of our restoration process, bringing forth a virtual resurrection that pays homage to the marriage of ancient history and modern innovation

Cultural heritage 3D visualization
Unreal Engine historical restoration

Following the exhaustive data acquisition phase through the deployment of the Artec Leo scanner, Artec Ray, and DJI Mini drone, the subsequent stages of our 3D restoration project transitioned into a highly technical domain. The amassed raw scans underwent an intricate computational process where sophisticated algorithms meticulously orchestrated the alignment and merging of point clouds. This meticulous procedure aimed at achieving a seamless integration of both interior and exterior perspectives. As 3D artists, our responsibilities extended beyond the physical scanning realm to encompass advanced data manipulation and refinement tasks. The culmination of this computational symphony resulted in a refined digital reconstruction, comprising an intricate network of pixels and polygons. The finalized geometry, a meticulously crafted digital replica, emerged as the culmination of this sophisticated process. The concluding act involved the precise exportation of this digital masterpiece, poised for unveiling and dissemination, thereby immortalizing the Rock-Hewn Church of Ivanovo within the perpetuity of the digital landscape.

The raw data obtained from the scanning instruments served as the foundational bedrock for subsequent 3D modeling endeavors. Leveraging advanced modeling techniques, our team meticulously refined the initial scan data, addressing imperfections and enhancing geometric accuracy through precise manipulation of vertices and polygons. The intricate art of retopology then ensued, involving the creation of an optimized and efficient topology mesh, ensuring computational efficiency and visual fidelity.

Subsequently, the process transitioned to the realm of texture baking, a critical step in transmuting high-resolution details from the 3D scan to the model. This involved the extraction and transfer of intricate surface details, such as normals, ambient occlusion, and displacement maps, onto the newly crafted 3D model. The culmination of this stage yielded a model that not only retained the authenticity of the original scan but also boasted an optimized structure conducive to real-time rendering.

The journey delved deeper into the realm of texturing work, where Substance Painter emerged as a powerful ally. Armed with this advanced texturing software, our artists meticulously crafted materials, seamlessly blending scanned textures with hand-painted elements to achieve unparalleled realism. The intricate dance between material definition, wear and tear, and ambient occlusion within Substance Painter became the defining strokes that brought the virtual rendition of the Rock-Hewn Church to life. Each stroke of the digital brush, informed by a deep understanding of historical context and artistic intuition, contributed to the creation of a visually stunning, photorealistic masterpiece that pays homage to the intersection of technological prowess and artistic finesse.

Educational virtual experiences history
Tourism impact virtual heritage

The VR Experience

In the realm of Virtual Reality and Animation Integration, our focus transitioned to the dynamic landscape of Unreal Engine, where the immersive virtual experience of the Rock-Hewn Church of Ivanovo took shape. Leveraging the robust capabilities of Unreal Engine, our team meticulously crafted a digital stage that mirrored the real-world counterpart. The integration process involved translating the meticulously detailed 3D model, enriched with high-fidelity textures and optimized geometry, into a virtual scene within Unreal Engine.

Two distinct scenes emerged from this digital symphony. The first scene encapsulates a digital double, a faithful representation showcasing the current state of the Rock-Hewn Church. This scene aimed at providing users with an immersive exploration of the existing architectural marvel, offering a snapshot of its present-day form and atmosphere.

The second scene, perhaps the magnum opus of the project, is dedicated to the 3D restoration. This scene unravels the meticulous resurrection of the church, presenting the historical monument in its former glory. The Unreal Engine became the canvas upon which the restoration narrative unfolded, allowing users to traverse the corridors of time and witness the church as it stood in its prime.

The interplay of lighting, shading, and dynamic elements within Unreal Engine added a layer of realism, transcending the virtual barrier and providing an immersive experience akin to physically standing within the hallowed walls of the Rock-Hewn Church. This dual-scene approach encapsulates the transformative power of 3D technology, offering users a unique opportunity to navigate between history and the present, bridging the temporal gap in a virtual environment that seamlessly fuses the realms of technology and storytelling.

Collaborative historical projects 3D studio

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