Visualising a Virtual Museum with The Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries are custodians of the United Kingdom’s national collection of arms and armour, comprising the national collection of arms and armour, national artillery collection, and national firearms collection. It is one of the largest collections of historic arms and armour in the world and is also the keeper of Tower of London history. There are three sites: Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, White Tower in the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson, Fareham near Portsmouth.

Horse armour (1480) Of Waldemar VI, Duke of Anhalt-Koethen
Place: Germany
Location:Leeds, War Gallery

Object Number: VI.379 A-E © Royal Armouries Museum

On 30 March 1996, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds opened to the public. The new building, designed by architect Derek Walker, is the headquarters of the Royal Armouries complex of museums, and houses the majority of the museum’s collections. The project formed part of Strategy 2000, a scheme produced in 1990 to provide the national museum of arms and armour with a suitable infrastructure to preserve, display and interpret its collections.

Field armour (1550)
with decorated and gilt bands, possibly for Roger, 2nd Baron North
Place: England, Greenwich
Location: Leeds, War Gallery
Object Number: II.82 © Royal Armouries Museum

The Leeds museum is built not only to display the national collection, but to tell the story of the development of arms and armour through the objects, a wide range of audio-visual presentations, computer interactives and interpretations to bring the subject to life.

Ensuring that the collection is preserved for future generations is the responsibility of conservators. It is their job to prevent irreversible damage and deterioration through the use of interventive and preventive methods. Audits are conducted frequently as a method of monitoring the condition of objects and highlighting those that require treatment. It also provides the opportunity to identify common factors that might be contributing to an object’s deterioration.

With no prior experience or knowledge, Preventive Conservator Rebecca Hayton, used SketchUp Pro to create scale models of the stores and plot the exact position of objects requiring treatment for easier access (Fig 1). Rebecca learnt the basic functions by watching videos and consulting forums, allowing her to create an accurate representation of the store room from measurements and plans available. Rebecca even made a basic pommel to show that these objects were swords (Fig 2).

Fig 1: Scale model of store recreated in SketchUp
© Royal Armouries Museum

Fig 2: Image showing basic pommel created in SketchUp to illustrate a sword
© Royal Armouries Museum

Following the positive feedback received from colleagues, Rebecca went on to identify other ways in which SketchUp could be used throughout the museum.

Ideas such as plotting where pest and environmental monitoring equipment is located were suggested – as well as experimenting with exhibition design and layout. Another idea proposed was to use SketchUp to create an accurate representation of the gallery spaces, allowing virtual galleries complete with images of real objects to be visualised. This is currently a work in progress but it is hoped that the final result will allow a full virtual version of the museum to be created. This could then be used in the event of a salvage situation to highlight priority objects requiring removal or protection and the safest routes to/from them. For accuracy, photographs of ‘starred objects’ were converted to PNG files allowing them to be imported into a SketchUp model (Fig 3). A step up from this, if possible, would be to import a 3D scanned image of an object allowing for 360° accuracy making walking through the virtual gallery more realistic and allowing conservators to point out hazards and areas of concern to firefighters for example.

Figure 3: SketchUp model of the Cruciform display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds with photographic image of Gothic Armour in-situ
© Royal Armouries Museum

You can find out more about Royal Armouries by visiting their website or by following any of their awe-inspiring and fascinating social media channels!

  1. Facebook
  2. Instagram
  3. YouTube
  4. Twitter

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