Yenra : Olympics : Ancient Olympia : Greece cultural center develops immersive visualization technology 3d virtual tour of the historic sports city


The Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW) has opened an immersive 3D virtual reality (VR) tour of the ancient city of Olympia, created on and powered by a selection of high-performance visualization systems from Silicon Graphics. At Hellenic Cosmos, FHW's innovative cultural center located in Athens' Tavros district, the new tour driven by an SGI Onyx2 visualization system allows visitors to explore the history of more than 30 temples and secular buildings of ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games and the site of the first athletic event, a foot race, held in 776 BC.

The dazzling 3D visualization capabilities of the cultural center, powered by SGI technology, are also being used for an in-depth virtual tour of the Temple of Zeus, ancient Olympia's largest building. The temple includes the ivory and gold statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The father of the gods to whom the Games are dedicated, Zeus' statue is also featured in a virtual visit to the workshop of Phidias, which shows how the sculptor created the seated Zeus, with a miniature of Nike, the goddess of victory, in his hand. Hellenic Cosmos is also premiering an immersive pentathlon powered by SGI technology, where the public can interact virtually with ancient Olympian athletes in five sports, including the 200-meter sprint, discus throwing, wrestling, the long jump and javelin throwing. Prior to this week's official FHW opening of the Olympia VR environments, numerous members of the Greek Parliament have admired the stunning 3D graphics of the ancient city that has been a source of PanHellenic pride and unity for centuries.

A long-time SGI customer, FHW's Hellenic Cosmos currently uses an SGI Onyx2 visualization system to power its ReaCTor immersive display with four SGI InfiniteReality2 graphics subsystems to power the cave-like virtual environment. A Silicon Graphics Octane visualization workstation runs Fakespace Systems Inc.'s ImmersaDesk to display additional content. At FHW's main headquarters, located under the Acropolis, artists and software developers use C++ to write their own framework for development of the environments on Silicon Graphics O2 and Silicon Graphics Octane visual workstations, both running SGI OpenGL Performer, a real-time graphics programming toolkit. Softimage 3D and Softimage XSI are primarily used for modeling. Over the years, SGI visualization systems have been used to create the content of all of the Foundation's virtual reality environments, including the three new environments created especially to coincide with the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games.

"We have relied on SGI's visualization power and expertise for many years because SGI is easily upgradeable and very scalable," said Athanasios Gaitatzes, head of the Virtual Reality Department, Foundation of the Hellenic World. "We develop our virtual environments on O2 and Octane and run them on Octane and Onyx2. SGI Onyx2 is extremely reliable, which is a big plus, because almost every day during the winter we have about 300 children using the exhibits -- we can't afford to have any down time. In terms of scalability, being able to use our applications from the O2 up to the Onyx2 -- without making any changes -- is very efficient."

"We are very pleased to see the SGI Reality Center solution's technology being used to present Olympic Games history beginning from the dawn of Western civilization. The re-creation of the early city of Olympia at the Foundation of the Hellenic World in Athens will inspire future generations of historians and archeologists -- and Olympic athletes -- around the world," said Paul McNamara, senior vice president and general manager, Visual Systems Group, SGI. "On the occasion of our recent celebration of the 10th anniversary of SGI Reality Center, and with nearly 700 Reality Center facility's deployed in multiple industries, SGI congratulates our customers throughout the world who continue to inspire us to deliver ever more powerful immersive visualization technology so they can continue to revolutionize decision-making in the sciences, energy, manufacturing and government industries."

In addition, FHW is making a major addition to the Hellenic Cosmos cultural center that includes the development of 3D environments for a 128-seat domed theater. Construction will begin in early fall 2004, with the completion and grand opening projected for 2006. The 3D domed theater will join the two permanent VR installation areas -- "Kivotos" and the "Magic Screen" -- where visitors wear special stereoscopic glasses and use a navigational device, or "magic wand," in order to experience the landscape, architecture, and culture of ancient Greece. The Kivotos is an entire room of 3 by 3 by 3 meters, where the walls as well as the floor are projection screens, currently powered by the SGI Onyx2 system-based on Reality Center technology. The Magic Screen, a large virtual reality display shaped as a drafting table, was the first virtual reality system to come to Greece, and runs on the Silicon Graphics Octane and Fakespace equipment. Its dimensions (1.5 meters wide by 1.2 meters high) and angle provide the opportunity for six visitors at any one time to interact with the digital content. As in the Kivotos, the Magic Screen allows visitors to engage in interactive activities and explore the virtual environment as they wish, not as mere onlookers but as active participants.

FHW is staffed with archaelogists, historians, architects, museologists, museum educators, computer scientists, graphic designers, producers of multimedia programs, and 3D animation modelers.

SGI produces high-performance computing, visualization, and storage.