Project Update: Virtual Reconstruction of Manzanar, Topaz and Tule Lake

CyArk's Progress on the 2011 JACS Grant

by Elizabeth Lee
October 12, 2012
CyArk is in the final stages of the work to virtually reconstruct three sites through a grant from the National Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites program. In 2011, CyArk began a project to utilize new digital tools to share the history of the unjust treatment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. CyArk's work has focused on the War Relocation Authority (WRA) sites of Tule Lake, Topaz, and Manzanar. The primary goal of the project has been to create a means for the general public to learn about these sites and their history through an interactive experience combining historic information, video interviews, and three-dimensional representations of the locations.

The first step in this project was to use tools like 3D laser scanning to capture the sites as they exist today. The first site to be captured in 3D was the Topaz Relocation Center.

With the 3D capture complete, CyArk set to work on virtually reconstructing the sites. CyArk used the registered point cloud data to create a mesh of the historic components. The meshed data was then brought into specialized rendering engines for adding features which are no longer a part of the site. Using the accurate point cloud data as the base, we drew from historic photographs, oral histories and expert knowledge to create the initial reconstruction. Our early progress can be seen in this blog.

With an initial draft complete, we wanted to solicit additional feedback from the Japanese American community. To date, we have held two public review sessions, one in Los Angeles for Manzanar, and the other at the Topaz Museum groundbreaking in Delta, Utah. These sessions were incredibly helpful in further refining the virtual models of the site.

Manzanar Sample User Walk-Through

The final step in the project has been to integrate all of our resources, including the rich oral histories from Densho into the interactive model. This integration is happening through a traditional website, but also through a gaming engine which will allow visitors to watch the interviews in context. This engine will allow users to walk through the sites on self guided tours, experiencing the locations first hand. Users will also be able to access spatially linked media from within the 3D environment. Watch the embedded YouTube videos for samples of user walk throughs.

Topaz Sample User Walk-Through

CyArk plans to release the complete web portal and interactive portions later this year on the CyArk website. Please check back for additional news and updates.
Virtual reconstruction of Topaz War Relocation Center
Virtual reconstruction of the Tule Lake Segregation Center jail