Computational Portraiture: Survivors Project

Earlier this semester, I took Computational Portraiture, taught by James George and Alexander Porter of Specular.  Alexander introduced me to an elegant workflow to build architectural models from photographs in Google Sketchup.  Sketchup was acquired by Google for the purpose of crowdsourcing 3D renders to populate their Google Earth maps, laid down upon global land surveys and data that they already had access to for terrain and overhead views of geography and human imprints.  Google has moved on, but the process is still available and can be applied for other purposes.

In my case, the purpose is beginning to recreate the buildings that made up Fort Humboldt, Eureka, CA, almost all of which only exist in archival photographs.

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The first step is using Sketchup’s “Match Photo” tool.
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Sketchup suggests perspective lines, which can be adjusted, forming guides from which to model.

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Sketchup’s particular utility is that these models can be generated fairly quickly, to a good degree of accuracy, and then there is a simple function to reproject the texture back onto the model, so you end up with a convincing, if stylized, 3D version of the structure.

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That version can then be taken into any other software.  In my that was Unity, to construct a VR portrait.

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Buildings placed in Unity, used to create a context for a portrait of survivors of the 1860 Indian Island Massacre in Eureka, CA.

My subject was the survivors of the 1860 Indian Island Massacre, most of whom ended up at Fort Humboldt ostensibly for their own protection.  They were literally corralled there in destitute conditions until they were eventually moved outside of the area to distant reservations.  Of those limited survivors, an even smaller set have any existing representation in the form of photographs.  I used what I could find to shed light on them.