Augmented Reality Brings 2,200 Year-Old Chinese Terracotta Warriors to Life in The Franklin Institute’s Latest Exhibition

25 Oct 2017

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Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, mobile app with augmented reality. Photo by Lendl Tellington, courtesy of The Franklin Institute.

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Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, installation view. Photo courtesy of The Franklin Institute.

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Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, The Franklin Institute, installation view. Photo courtesy of The Franklin Institute.

The Franklin Institute’s Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, a new immersive adaptation of one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in modern time, recently made its debut in Philadelphia. Described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as an “ambitious, tremendously inventive exhibit,” Terracotta Warriors features 10 full-size ancient clay warriors—including a kneeling archer, cavalryman, general, charioteer, and kneeling musician—that are enhanced by immersive augmented reality (AR) technology.

Supported by a Center grant, the AR experience is accessed through an app on visitors’ mobile devices. When pointing their phones at one of the clay statues, visitors activate an AR viewer that generates 3D computer-generated imagery (CGI) representations of what the figures may have looked like 2,200 years ago, including renderings of the bronze swords and spears that were originally held by the warriors. The 3D images were developed collaboratively by technology experts and Franklin Institute curatorial and digital staff using photogrammetry, a process based on taking thousands of photographs of an object.

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Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, installation view. Photo courtesy of The Franklin Institute.

“The process of discovery using technology mirrors the recreation of the warriors themselves, all of which were in pieces when they were found, broken by the deterioration of their underground home over two millenniums,” wrote The New York Times in a recent review.

Visitors can also create their own army of terracotta warriors and virtually place them in any environment using the #MobileWarriors feature. The app automatically saves images to the device's camera roll, for easy sharing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Over 160 artifacts complement the clay warriors and provide insight into China’s early history, including ceremonial vessels, gold ornaments, architectural pieces, and bronze chariot replicas. Also featured are several interactive stations that highlight the original processes of building the warriors, and a life-size reproduction of the original tomb chambers that allows visitors to experience the scale of the clay army.

Learn more about the process of making the AR experience in the video below, courtesy of The Franklin Institute.

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor: Making of AR

Making of augmented reality for Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, courtesy of The Franklin Institute.