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The Corporation

Posted: 12/03/18

Ancient village’s past and present brought to life by students

Interactive media students at West Nottinghamshire College are using their digital design skills to bring an ancient Derbyshire village’s unique history, and vibrant present day, to life.

  • Brothers and scheme developers Colin (left, standing) and David Hall (left, seated) view the virtual reality film, joined by students Luke Buxton and Natasha Finney
  • Interactive and creative digital media students pictured with Colin Hall (third right) and brother David (right)

State-of-the-art 3D, virtual reality, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and animation work by learners on higher national diploma (HND) and degree courses are set to feature in a £1m heritage and visitor centre planned for the village of Stoney Middleton.

It comes after scheme developers, brothers Colin and David Hall – whose family have lived in the Peak District village for several generations – approached the Mansfield college to give emerging creative young talent the opportunity to get involved as part of a work-related project.

Using renowned software packages Lightwave 3D and Adobe After Effects, and the website Sketchfab – all used by artists in film, television, motion graphics, visual effects and video games development – students have created a fully-interactive 3D map and film to give visitors a sensory-rich experience, under the guidance of tutors Tony Hall and Aron Spall.

The map will showcase well-known village landmarks including St. Martin’s church, Roman bath house, Toll House and Moon Inn public house, with people able to interact with their 3D incarnations and see them up close from a variety of angles.

Meanwhile, the film will celebrate the village’s prehistoric origins, the first settlement by Ancient Britons in around 4,000 BC and occupation by the Romans, to becoming an important industrial centre of limestone quarrying, mineral processing and boot-making, up to the present day as a popular home to heritage trails, intriguing listed buildings, quaint cottages, stunning limestone crags and an extensive underground caving system. It is planned this will take the form of a 3D ‘immersive’ room, boasting giant-sized virtual reality footage across three walls.

Natasha Finney, who is on the second year of the HND Interactive Media course, was amongst the students that worked on the interactive map. The 20-year-old, from Hucknall, was tasked with bringing the Roman bath house to life in 3D form.

She said: “I really enjoy 3D modelling so this project has helped me learn and practise loads of different techniques, such as how to add texture. It’s nice to work with real-life clients and get their feedback on what they want the map to look and feel like.”

BA (Hons) Applied Studies in Creative Digital Media student Luke Buxton contributed to the virtual reality film, taking the role as project manager.

“I took the lead on the video’s composition, placing the visual elements and recording the audio, so I’ve developed my cinematography skills, along with my composition and colour-grading skills, which is what I want to specialise in when I leave college,” said the 23-year-old, from Mansfield.

He added: “I’m not aware of any other facility in the country that will have this type of 3D immersive room, with wraparound screens that take up almost the entire space, so it could be truly unique.”

The Hall brothers recently visited the college’s Derby Road campus to inspect the students’ work and check progress on the project.

Colin said: “Stoney Middleton has an ancient and colourful history, with a plethora of interesting folklore stories of romance and tragedy, all based on truth, and it is now an important climbing and caving destination. From a tourism point of view, it’s got almost everything – but nowhere that tells its story.

“The idea of working with the college was to come up with something new and inspiring that tells this story in a dramatic and moving way. The students’ work will be the first experience that visitors to the centre are going to feel. Visitors are going to instantly get connected with how the earth was formed, its geology, and how Stoney Middleton came to be. Hopefully, they will then be inspired to look into how things unfolded, including all the wonderful stories connected with this unique place and its modern-day identity.

“We’re immensely impressed with the progress so far – it’s exceeded our expectations. The professionalism of the students, from start to finish, and the way they have taken our brief and implemented it, has been brilliant. We had a vision for how it might be, and they’ve surpassed that.

“Seeing what they’ve produced was a moving experience. We can’t wait for it to take pride of place inside the centre and let other people experience it too.”

The purpose-built visitor attraction will be developed on the site of the former Lords Lead Smelting Cupola, which occupied the land on the A623. It is hoped construction will start this summer, with the centre expected to open in autumn 2019.

The centre will be operated by not-for-profit organisation Stoney Middleton Heritage Centre Community Group (SMHCCG) and will have on-site parking, be free to enter, and provide direct access to the former Goddard’s limestone quarry. It will also boast a café and shop that sells craft items local to the area.