The School of Athens In VR

The Prompt

The School of Athens in VR was a project I did for DESMA 156: 3d modeling and motion. We were supposed to draw inspiration from a famous 2d painting and recreate and expand on a 3d representation of that space in VR.

I chose Raphael’s School of Athens because whenever I looked at this painting, I always imagined what it would be like to walk amongst all these brilliant philosophers and generally important figures of humanity. It always seemed like a magical experience, and VR (at the moment) is probably the best medium for such an experience.

The Execution and Idea

I started with the basic layout designs of the Basilica from Bramente and Raphael, and ultimately created a kind of hybrid version that I thought best represented the interior portrayed in the painting. I then Identified the most important elements of the scene that were needed in order to make the interior compelling.

  • Overall Structure—Cross/Plus layout
  • Various Columns
  • Various Crown Mouldings
  • Bas Relief Pattern on the Arches
  • Renaissance Sculptures

When I finished modeling the building, I was pretty happy with the way that it turned out. It was definitely recognizable, but still not very distinctive.

I needed a way to say something more about the space, give it some excitement and meaning.

Even though the influence of philosophers like Aristotle and Plato or undisputed, when was the last time you heard of a famous contemporary philosopher? I wanted to play with this idea of decay and unkempt entropy as well as the relationship between human society and nature. The result became a sort of post-apocalyptic landscape where you can wander the ruins of a lost civilization.

The Painting and Historical Context

The School of Athens is a fresco in the Vatican by renaissance painter Raphael.  He did many similar paintings for Vatican, but this particular one is considered his “masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance.”[1] The building itself does not exist, though it has been compared to an an advance view of St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve been to St. Peter’s Basilica, and I did immediately recognize similarities to the painting, though it is definitely not a replica as there are many obvious differences between this image and the fully realized structure.

The Technology Stack

I used Maya to 3d model the building, but everything else was created in Unity. I used a procedural world plugin to generate the grass, trees, plants, and the terrain. I used VRTK for teleportation. The sculptures were taken from Sketchfab, where creators can post 3d models including photogrammetry scans of real sculptures, which these are.

Let me know what you think of this project in the comments and find other projects here!

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