Making space for the Murder in the Manor

Work on Murder in the Manor is now in its final stages, and we are planning to launch the website next week. In the run up to launch we will be posting more details about the project, including a preview of the characters featured in our tale. But as we’re coming to the end of the technical development of the project, it’s a good time to talk about the work of the web developer, Say Digital.

Richard Sams, Say Digital, photographing in Preston Manor.
Richard Sams, Say Digital, photographing in Preston Manor.

In my first post on Murder in the Manor, I mentioned that users of the website would be able to access the stories through a ‘recreation of Preston Manor that you can explore online’. How will we achieve this?

There are lots ways of simulating or creating space with digital technology, ranging from navigable text descriptions of places (think of early adventure games like Zork) to creating a visual environment based on three dimensional shapes (think Minecraft). The method used will depend on the resources available and the aspirations of the project. The focus of Murder in the Manor is to provide an atmospheric context for creative writing inspired by Preston Manor. As such, it does not require a geometrically accurate recreation of the building. What it requires is a means of capturing the ambience of Preston Manor and providing an impression of space; something that feels authentic, if not precise. The space we need to create is one that encourages exploration, but its focus is on active looking rather than simulated movement.

The solution provided by Say Digital is, in essence, very simple. It looks like this:

Stitched panorama of the South West room of Preston Manor
Stitched panorama of the South West room of Preston Manor

This image is made up of numerousl still photographs stitched together. Although it appears distorted, the image contains all the visual information necessary to provide a complete view of the South West Room of Preston Manor. When correctly interpreted by software, the user can move the photograph in such a way that it allows her to look up, down, left and right, and gives the sensation of being placed in the centre of the room. 360 degree panoramic photos of this type are becoming increasingly common, partly as technology improves, but also because touchscreen devices make this form of interaction much more attractive. Google’s Street View uses a similar technique, and the Guardian website features a nice example of the Royal Pavilion’s Great Kitchen.

Microsoft’s Photosynth and the Photo Sphere function available in some Android phones are making this form of photography much more accessible. But as is often the case with photography, to create really good results takes some technical skill. The panoramas used in Murder in the Manor were shot by Richard Sams of Say Digital using a camera with a fisheye lens. Fisheye lenses are ultra-wide angle lenses that are ideal for creating panoramic views but tend to distort heavily in the corners. To accommodate this, each room was progressively shot at thirty degree angles. When stitched together, these shots provide a smooth scrolling view with minimal distortion.

The results are looking very impressive so far, as is the rest of Say Digital’s work on the website. Naturally, I’m far from impartial, but you’ll be able to judge for yourself next week when Murder in the Manor goes live.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer

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