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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 08:08 GMT 09:08 UK
Roman 'virtual reality' recreated
Roman wall painting
Roman frescoes used an ancient form of 3D
The Romans invented many things but it may come as a surprise to some that they could also be responsible for a rudimentary version of virtual reality.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have uncovered 3D paintings in the ancient villas of Pompeii which used tricks similar to virtual reality to impress guests.

The researchers have recreated the extravagant 3D wall paintings of theatre scenes to allow 21st century viewers to tread the boards of the long-lost Roman theatres.

The project, carried out by the University of Warwick's e-lab in conjunction with the School of Theatre Studies, combines the Roman wall paintings with state-of-the-art computer modelling to study the paintings in detail.

Virtual actors

Computer model of Roman stage
Theatre was an integral part of Roman culture and the wall paintings enable us to understand theatre, politics and culture
Drew Baker, University of Warwick's e-lab
It has emerged that the frescoes used a technique called perspective scenic painting to suggest 3D architectural structures on 2D surfaces.

Used first in 5th century BC Greek theatre, the technique was later taken up by the Romans to decorate their lavish homes.

"We've created the world's first computer generated 3D models of early temporary wooden sets from paintings," said Professor Richard Beacham.

These sets can be used to recreate virtual performances and virtual actors can be put on stage so viewers can see what it would have been like to be a member of the audience.

"The reconstructions enable viewers to step into and navigate ancient stages," said Professor Beacham.

The reconstructured wall paintings offer academics more than just a view of how theatres would have looked.

"Theatre was an integral part of Roman culture and the wall paintings enable us to understand theatre, politics and culture during the transition from Republic to Empire," said Drew Baker from the University of Warwick's e-lab.

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