Virtual Olympia

2000 Sydney, Australia

Collaborator: Kate de Costa, Tim Hart, Peter Murphy, Cliff Ogleby, John Ristevski

in collaboration with Intel Corporation, Powerhouse Museum

Virtual Olympia was commissioned by and developed in collaboration with the Intel Corporation for the Powerhouse Museum exhibition, 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece (July-November 2000). Produced to coincide with the Sydney Olympic Games, the exhibition was comprised of the most significant collection of Greek antiquities to leave Greece. Virtual Olympia consisted of four works designed to supplement the traditional visitor experience with the introduction of virtual reality components including:

  • High resolution 3D digital reconstruction of the archaeological site of Olympia in 200 BC conjoined with real-world panoramas of the site in 2000;
  • Laser scan of the famous statue of Zeus from the archaeological museum in Athens;
  • Large-scale website released for a high-end Intel Web Outfitter service as a showcase platform for cutting edge web technologies; and
  • An educational CDROM supplement.

Often crowded to capacity over the course of the exhibition, the stereoscopic installation provided an interactive and popular dialogic space of co-navigation and discovery and was revealed by visitor studies to be the most popular section of the exhibition. 

Users were able navigate through the digital reconstructions and choose particular panoramic locations within the virtual model, which was constructed at full scale in a 4-metre-wide passive stereo scene. Interaction was controlled with a joystick console. From within the virtual space the user was able to then select specific locations to view cross-referenced photographic panoramas of the site of Olympia itself (captured in 2000), thus oscillating between real-world and virtual realms in one augmented virtual space. The experience included narration and synthetic sounds appropriate to the reconstruction. It was displayed in a dedicated room on a 3-metre silver screen using passive polarisation.

The collection produced for Virtual Olympia included a complete digital facsimile of the statue of the Artemision Bronze—a world-famous statue of Zeus or Poseidon house in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. This was constructed using state-of-the-art 3D laser scanning to sub-millimetre accuracy enabling the statue to be displayed as an almost exact digital copy of the original. Surface textures were mapped using digital and conventional photography to compliment the spatial accuracy of the model. The model was viewed with the use of shutter glasses to achieve a hig- quality 3D effect. The objective from a curatorial perspective was to make the transition from the real objects to the virtual surrogate as seamless as possible for the visitor and to present objects within the exhibition that could not travel from Greece. 

The exhibition was complemented by an extensive website that gave access to both these 3D models, and a wealth of object-related information and photography. The website featured a ground breaking navigable computer-generated 3D world augmented with real-world panoramic photographs. Object movies of statues from the Archaeological Museum of Olympia and of artefacts included in the exhibition were also a significant feature of the site. The layering of didactic information and archaeological data provided a novel addition and supplement for the physical exhibition. The site also offered extensive downloadable resources including all the individual graphics that made up the models of the ancient site of Olympia, all the photographic panoramas of the site of Olympia, the various object movies (including the anaglyph of the Artemision Bronze statue and downloadable printable glasses and a host of archaeological information specific the work of reconstruction. The site and other materials were packaged as a CDROM resource distributed to all Australian schools. This contribution of Virtual Olympia to web-based education was recognised through its for a BAFTA award nomination (see below).



2000: Finalist in the British Association for Film and Television Interactive Entertainment Awards, Factual section

2000-2003: Museums Australia, Best Website for an Australian Museum; Publication Awards 2000-2003: 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece (Powerhouse Publishing).

2000: Best Virtual Heritage Reconstruction, International Society of Virtual Systems and Multimedia, Virtual Olympia, Gifu, Japan.

2000: Best of the Best Website Award, Australian Interactive Multimedia Association Awards - 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece.

2000: Best Interface Design Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (AIMIA) Awards 1000 Years of the Olympic games: Treasures of Ancient Greece.

2000: Hitwise Top10, websites Education/Reference, 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece.

Exhibition Record
2000/07/18 - 11/18
1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia