Micklegate Priory Revealed

Key elements

  • Multi-phase project, with phase two installed on-site in early 2013
  • 3D visualisation of a 15th century monastic precinct, including mechanical and character animation
  • Series of 3D panoramas detail the virtual priory from different locations
  • Integration of sound and music to bring the buildings and activities to life

Overview

Holy Trinity Micklegate is a thriving parish church in York with a long and complex history. The present church is only part of the nave from a much larger Benedictine priory church that was at the heart of a seven-acre monastic precinct.

The priory was dissolved at the Reformation and its land and buildings disposed of, but the local parish was allowed to retain its part of the church - albeit in a poor state of repair after a dramatic tower collapse in 1550. The quire of the church and almost all the associated monastic buildings have long since disappeared, but the legacy of that past remains in the local topography and in the names of streets and houses.

An exhibition exploring 'The Monks of Micklegate' has been in place in the church for a number of years, but ways to both expand that story and to capture some less tangible aspects were sought. The parish approached The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York to help present its lost monastic past, who in turn sought the expertise of Heritage Technology to explore aspects of the life and buildings of the priory through 3D visualisation. A multi-phase interpretation project was devised that would provide information in an easily-accessible, engaging way - ensuring visitors of all ages, backgrounds and knowledge-levels could explore and learn at their own pace.

Phase one

The first phase of the project culminated in an interactive touch-screen presenting a digital recreation of the former priory precinct and its geographical context, which was installed in Holy Trinity church during September 2010. Visitors can explore the precinct through a series of twelve 3D panoramas detailing different locations within the monastic grounds. The panoramas are accessible via an overview map, which not only allows visitors to choose an area in which to start their exploration, but also positions the precinct within its surroundings and allows visitors to orientate themselves. Once inside the 'virtual priory', interactive links allows users to 'walk' through to and explore other areas and aspects of priory life, while touchable 'hotspots' provide access to further contextual information and 3D animations.

The interface provides a non-linear form of exploration, allowing users to progress at their own pace and target elements that particularly interest them. This also increases flexibility in terms of repeat-visiting, since unexplored content can be accessed immediately without having to progress along a set, linear path of content-delivery.

Phase two

The second phase of the project moved the focus from the precinct's buildings and arrangement to the priory's inhabitants - the Benedictine monks. The format took a 'day in the life of...' approach, which looked at the monks' routine on Trinity Sunday, one of the most important days of the year. In addition to presenting the key points of a monk's day, which was conceptualised using an interactive 'time-dial' approach, this phase of the project made it possible to look inside the buildings (whose outsides were first presented in phase one) to see how they worked.

The increased human focus of this phase required a significant investment in additional 3D visualisation development, primarily in the area of character animation. Creating realistic characters and devising believable movement using motion capture data presented a challenge, but ultimately led to a more engaging, informative resource.

The outcome was a series of movies (with accompanying textual narrative) that provided glimpses of monastic life from within buildings such as the dormitory, refectory, scriptorium and the church itself. Sound and music were included to bring the movies to life: incidental noises such as footsteps and wind created natural ambience, whilst specially-sourced psalms and music ensured a high level of historical accuracy.

Further developments

A 3rd phase is currently in the pre-planning stage, but will likely build upon the interpretative foundations laid by phases one and two.

Also being considered is an additional outcome in the form of a souvenir CD-ROM, containing the touchscreen software for use on Windows PC and Mac computers. Visitors wishing to explore the priory further will be able to take away the software for a minimal cost.

Gallery

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