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Visualizing History: Tunnels of Vauquois

Visualizing History: Tunnels of Vauquois



• Creative Director, Programming, VR integration, Immersive Environment - Zach Duer
• Project Lead - Todd Ogle
• Learning Design - David Hicks
• Environment Creation Supervision - Thomas Tucker
• 3D Scanning - DongSoo Choi
• Full Credits -


• IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, Vol. 40, No. 4 - "Making the Invisible Visible: Bringing to Light the Hidden Histories of the World War I Tunnels at Vauquois Through a Hybridized Physical and Virtual Reality Exhibition," 2020
• SIGGRAPH 2020 - "If This Place Could Talk ... First World War Tunnel Warfare Through Haptic VR," Online, July 19, 2020
• ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival 2019 - "Exploring the World War I Tunnels of Vauquois through Virtual Reality," - Washington D.C., April 5-7, 2019
• College Art Association 2019 Annual Conference - "Educational Platforms for Immersive Student-Driven Learning," New York City, NY, February 16, 2019
• National Council for the Social Studies - "Virtual Reality and Immersive Experiences of a Great War Battlefield," Chicago, IL, December 1, 2018
• Salem Museum & Historical Society, Salem, VA, June 7 - November 11, 2018
• Digital Scholarship Lab, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, June, 2018
• American Educational Research Association - "If This Place Could Talk: The Lost Village of Vauquois," New York City, NY, April 17, 2018
• IEEE VR 2018 - "Experiencing an Invisible World War I Battlefield Through Narrative-Driven Redirected Walking in Virtual Reality," Reutlingen, Germany, March 18, 2018

Sponsored by:

• VT Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology - Major SEAD Grant

Visualizing History: Tunnels of Vauquois (VHTV) is an educational immersive virtual reality exhibit that makes the invisible history of World War I soldiers’ experiences in the tunnels of Vauquois, France visible to contemporary audiences. The exhibit presents the visitor with both discrete knowledge and the opportunity for emotional awareness. The virtual environment is recreated from scanned data of the original site. Visitors traverse the tunnel through the use of a head-mounted display, redirected walking, passive haptics, aligned physical and virtual environments, interactive tracked props, and narration.

Our evidence-based interpretations of the experiences of the people who were there form a narrative that is overlaid onto the ground truth, adding a layer of metaphorical mapping. In this way, there are two kinds of invisibility. The tunnels are mostly off-limits. Human experiences themselves are fundamentally inaccessible. The purpose of this work is to make visible both the tunnel landscape and the experiences of those who were there. We aim to create a generative space for thinking, allowing visitors to consider their own interpretation and to identify patterns that resonate.

We provide a new mode of perspective into the events of World War I by reconstructing a section of tunnels dug under the village of Vauquois and presenting an experience for the visitor that recreates a sense of walking in the footsteps of others. To build this virtual environment, we mapped and digitized the tunnels using photogrammetry and laser scanning to show visitors what is there physically. The VHTV exhibit allows visitors to explore a digital and physical recreation of a tunnel section. In its current form, the VHTV exhibit pairs physical and virtual installations to create an immersive experience with visualization and passive haptics. By providing visitors with salient, physical objects they can touch and interact with that corresponded directly with the virtual objects that they see in the experience, we afford the visitor the opportunity to touch something that feels exactly how it looks. Reaching out and touching a textured surface that matches the virtual wall, or picking up and holding a lantern which you then use to light the view around you, are closer to real experience than strictly virtual interactions. Combined with natural locomotion rather than flying or teleporting with a controller, one’s presence should be enhanced. It is this enhanced sense of presence that we hope contributes to the empathy we are seeking to impart in our visitors.

The full physical exhibit (Figure 3) consists of two 3.5 meter long by 2.5 meter tall boxes, placed approximately 1 meter apart. In combination, these boxes will henceforth be referred to as the physical tunnel, and they form the walls of our reproduction of the actual tunnels. The inner surfaces of the physical tunnel, which visitors can touch during the experience, are textured with spray foam. The foam is smoothed and painted to feel (as well as look like, when the visitor is not in VR) the tunnel walls of the actual site. There is no ceiling on the physical tunnel, and the virtual reality system is mounted within and upon the boxes. Visitors begin the experience on one end of the physical tunnel, walk to the far end, turn around, and then return to the start of the tunnel. One of the physical tunnel walls has an inset which is used in the virtual environment to represent both an opening to a room in a visitor’s first trip down the tunnel, as well as an inset for interaction in a visitor’s trip back up the tunnel.

The physical props (Figure 4) include a handheld lantern, a reproduction of a geophone (for listening to enemy movements through the tunnel walls), wooden boxes, and wiring, each of which the visitor can touch with their own hands. These props are modeled from photographs of artifacts, and are accompanied by virtual counterparts of the same scale and shape. The lantern is tracked with motion capture so that its position is replicated precisely in the virtual environment. Functioning as the visitor’s primary light source throughout the experience, the lantern is held in one hand, leaving the other hand free to interact with the rest of the exhibit. The geophone, also aligned with a virtual counterpart, is an important informational element in the experience and can also be interacted with, including opening and closing the lid. Wires, representing communication wires in the virtual environment, run down one wall of the tunnel, and can act as a physical guide as the visitor walks down the tunnel.

The physical exhibit itself is designed to prepare visitors with background information about the story of Vauquois prior to trying the virtual experience. Text, historical and current images and video of the site, and a point cloud flythrough of the raw laser scanner data accompany the virtual experience. This documentation also includes text and images describing the process of creating the virtual experience.

The virtual reality technology employed is an HTC Vive Pro system, using four base stations, a wireless head-mounted display, and a Vive Tracker (for the lantern). Two base stations are deployed at opposite ends of the tunnel, while the second pair are installed in the inset and opposing side, midway down the tunnel.



Demonstration of virtual tunnel and redirected walking in VR




SIGGRAPH 2020 Presentation



ACCelerate 2019 Documentation



Documentation of field work



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