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When in Rome, Rebuild A City

It's a beautiful Roman afternoon in the year 320 A.D. As you pass through the Forum and up the Sacred Way, you admire the arches in Emperor Constantine's new Basilica and then head down a basalt-paved street toward a residential neighborhood. It's easy to get lost here, amid Rome's winding alleyways and 7,000 buildings. But if that happens, you can always zoom out to get your bearings.

Welcome to Rome Reborn, a 3D virtual reality trip on display now at SIGGRAPH through the ancient Roman capital at its height, when more than one million people called the city home.

Rome Reborn director Bernard Frischer started the project with a colleague at UCLA in 1997, and Rome Reborn 1.0 was officially unveiled in Rome's City Hall in June 2007. However, Frischer, since 2004 a professor at the University of Virginia where he heads up the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities (IATH), was just getting started. While Rome Reborn 1.0 was historically accurate, the Herculean task of digitally reconstructing 7,000 individual civic buildings, monuments, apartments and more manually meant that they lacked a high level of realism.

Among the first objectives was to upgrade the detail and resolution of the Rome Reborn 1.0 structures. To speed up realization the project's dream of illustrating the entire urban development of Rome over a 1,500 year period, the Rome Reborn team wanted to establish an interactive online journal where scholars outside the project could contribute 3D models of buildings spanning the entire history of ancient Rome from 1000 B.C. to 550 A.D.

The plan is to collect all of this in an online scholarly journal called SAVE (Saving and Archiving Virtual Environments). The journal needs to support many simultaneous log-ins in a secure format that does not allow downloads. And SAVE will not be limited to ancient Rome but also publish scholars' models of other significant cultural heritage sites around the world.

But it can't take another 10 years to finish these projects. The Rome Reborn development team needed some seriously powerful technology to make their visions a reality.

When the Collaboratorium, which houses the project, was established by IATH in August 2007, NVIDIA Corporation, the worldwide leader in visual computing technologies, was one of the partners. It maintains offices in the 2,200-square foot facility, and keeps the Rome Reborn developers supplied with the latest NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics solutions. The latest architecture of NVIDIA GPUs allows the team to visualize and render large scale architectural models at tremendous accelerations.

With the Quadro acceleration, Rome Reborn is able to dramatically speed up the process of modeling new buildings and altering existing ones, using an innovative application from Procedural Inc. called the CityEngine. This new city-building software allows developers to automatically propagate detailed urban environments extremely fast.

The final piece of the puzzle is mental images, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NVIDIA Corporation, that develops the mental ray renderer and the RealityServer. The RealityServer's scalable server-based technology provides a central visualization and collaboration platform for Rome Reborn. Equipped with two cores and an NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics solution, the RealityServer permits multiple users to access Rome Reborn remotely, giving them the ability to interactively collaborate.

"Since we began working with NVIDIA, mental images and Procedural, our Rome Reborn project has taken a quantum leap forward," Frischer said. "The speed with which new buildings can be visualized with the NVIDIA GPUs and propagated with the CityEngine is astonishing. And mental image's RealityServer will allow us to create an entirely new collaborative online archaeological journal that is unique and fills a major gap in the growing field of virtual archaeology."

Others who contributed technology and research to the project include: IBM, Illustrious, Past Perfect Productions, Ducati Myers, and the University of Bologna, The Politecnico di Milano, University of California -- Los Angeles, and Mersive Technologies.

Rome Reborn 2.0 is being unveiled at the annual computer graphics conference, SIGGRAPH, August 9, 2008, with new levels of detail that give archaeologists, teachers and students an immersive understanding of what it was like to walk through the streets of one of the world's greatest ancient cities. Experts in the field can deliver interactive lectures to students thousands of miles away as they navigate Rome together. Academics will be able to upload their own building models to the SAVE online journal for peer review and inclusion in Rome A.D. 320 and other virtual worlds.

For more information visit on the technology and technology involved

For more information on NVIDIA Quadro solutions, stop by the SIGGRAPH booth: #554.