[ISEA2011] Paper: Chris Rowland – Aesthetic 3D Rendering of Historic Shipwrecks (An artist’s intervention in Maritime Archaeology)


Seven tenths of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Evidence of our maritime heritage can be found in the thousands of historic shipwrecks that lie beneath the oceans on the seabed around our coastline. The majority of them are virtually invisible to the public gaze due to their inaccessible nature. However, recent developments in sonar technology have provided opportunities for high resolution data to be gathered which can be used to produce accurate 3D images of these important shipwreck sites.

This paper describes how a novel aesthetic approach to visualising this data can make our submerged maritime heritage more accessible to the general public. It describes how re-tasking 3D animation techniques can improve the viewer’s understanding of complex underwater scenes. Comparisons are made to how scientific data can often be aesthetically ill-considered, adopting a traditional “that’s how we have always done it” approach rather than attempting to focus on clarifying the data.

Many of the case study shipwrecks described are of environmental significance, either containing unexploded munitions, nuclear materials or large quantities of marine oil. The paper describes how an aesthetic approach to improving the visualisation of the data can help to inform risk assessment for recovery or containment of these hazardous materials.

In summary, the proposed aesthetic visualisation methods are evaluated alongside traditional industry approaches. Can art save lives?

  • Dr. Chris Rowland, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. University of Dundee. Scotland. UK. Chris Rowland is a creative practitioner working across the disciplines of animation and visualisation. Current research interests are centred around 3D visualisation of historic or environmentally significant shipwrecks from sonar data: metaphorically fishing with sound. Other projects relate to applying 3D visualisation techniques for detecting terrorist activity.

Full text (PDF) p. 2070-2076