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1st Sequence: Prolog


Opening Text

The Parthenon has had a rich and dramatic history since its construction nearly 2,500 years ago. Passing through the hands of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, and Ottomans, the building has served as a temple, a cathedral, a mosque, and a fortress. The impressive ruin seen today is greatly transformed from its original splendor as perhaps the most architecturally refined structure in the Western world. Making The Parthenon required choosing an aspect of its complex history to visualize in the context of a short film. Some conceptual art by digital artist Marc Brownlow exploring various scenes in the Parthenon's history can be seen at the right.

We chose to focus on the element of the Parthenon's history that most closely relates the monument to the human scale and to modern history, which is on its relationship to its sculptural decorations. The Parthenon's Frieze, Metopes and Pediments designed by Phidias represent as great an achievement in sculpture as the Parthenon is an achievement in architecture, with just as complex a history. In the early 1800's, when Athens was under the waning control of the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce, known as Lord Elgin, arranged to have the majority of the Parthenon's sculptures transported from Athens to London, where they were eventually sold to the British museum where they remain today. The call for the return of the sculptures to Greece began shortly after Greek independence in 1821 and has recently intensified, particularly leading up the the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the planned completion of the New Acropolis Museum in 2006.

Our film focuses on the visual presentation of the Parthenon and its sculptures, contrasting the relationship they have today with their original placement. The brief text with which the film opens was chosen to provide just enough information for the audience to understand the significance of the monument and its current separation from its sculptures.



Building the Parthenon: The Parthenon under construction. Digital painting study by Marc Brownlow after a drawing by Acropolis scholar Manolis Korres.

Parthenon mosque: The Parthenon during its time as a Mosque under the Ottoman Empire. This digital painting depicts the minaret built over the Christian Bell Tower as well as well as the smaller roof built after a fire in the late classical period. Digital painting study by Marc Brownlow.

Dismantling the Parthenon: After a destructive military victory over the Ottomans in 1687, the largely preserved West Pediment sculptures were removed by officers serving under Venetian Admiral Francesco Morosini. Unfortunately the pulley system failed and the sculputures (including the central statue of Poseidon) were dropped and shattered. Digital painting study by Marc Brownlow.


Shot 1: West Frieze II

The film opens with abstract cinematography over some of the Parthenon's sculptures. The 3D models of the sculptures were scanned from plaster casts in the Skulpturhalle museum in Basel, Switzerland. We used a non-photorealistic X-Ray shader to emphasize the contours of the sculptures and to produce an abstract view of the sculptures in sharp contrast to the photorealistic style of the digital Parthenon in the next sequence. The "X-Ray" shader (which produces images similar to those taken with an electron microscope) is essentially the photographic negative of the subject lit from the camera. Several of these 3D scans are available in our Parthenon Sculpture Gallery.

Sculpture: This shot shows West Frieze panel 2. The sculpture was originally situated in the north-west corner of the Parthenon, and is one of the few west frieze sections also taken to London. This section of frieze is shown again both in the Duveen gallery and back on the Parthenon in Sequence 4.

Cast: Using a custom structured light 3D scanning system we were able to capture detailed geometry of these high-quality Basel casts. As can be seen here the Basel casts have also been partially restored. For example, in the surviving sculpture (shown above) the raised center arm is broken off but this has been repaired in the Basel cast.

The scanned model (vrml): The assembled scan data for this section of frieze is available in our online sculpture gallery (link)

Early rendering: This was the first section of frieze we assembled, and it appeared in an early animated trailer for the Parthenon Project.


Shot 2: Estia-Diona-Aroditi (East Pediment) in Negative Shader

Located at the ends of the triangular roof of the Parthenon, the pediment sculptures were carved larger than life and are thought to depict two legends of the Greek goddess Athena. They were carved in the round, and would have stood 5 meters at the highest point. Many of the pediment sculptures exist only as fragments. Only one of the east pediments statues retains its head making identification difficult. Most of the figures are identified based on their clothing, body-type, and how and where they are seated.

Sculpture: The surviving sections of the east pediment are currently on display in the British Museum in London. The east pediment shows various Olympian deities witnessing the birth of Athena. The figures shown in this shot are usually interpreted as Aphrodite resting against his mother Dione.

Cast: In the Basel Skulpturhalle, the casts of these fragments have been placed in Styrofoam reconstructions of the missing pieces, and these are included in the scans. As the casts were not easily accessible, the pediment sculptures were only scanned from the front, and at low resolution.


Shot 3: South Metope 30 in Negative Shader

In Greek, the word "metope" means "between the eyes". The metope sculptures of the Parthenon are believed to have been given this name because they were placed between triglyphs, which are simple carved panels with three vertical ridges. The alternating sequence of triglyphs and metopes were placed on the outer colonnade. Each metope measured 1.2 meters high, and averaged 1.25 meters in width. Today, only fifty-two metopes of the original ninety-two still exist.

Sculpture: The best preserved Metopes, along the south face, are thought to depict a battle between the Greeks and a race of centaurs.

Cast: In the Basel Skulpturhalle, the casts of these fragments have been placed in Styrofoam reconstructions of the missing pieces, and these are included in the scans. As the casts were not easily accessible, the pediment sculptures were only scanned from the front, and at low resolution.


Shot 4: Cross Carved Column in Negative Shader

Instead of showing the various incarnations of the Parthenon directly, we instead show surviving artifacts and features that hint at the the rich history of the Parthenon. One of the surprising features of the Parthenon is the ancient graffiti and markings that have been carved into the marble columns and walls. As many of these inscriptions are both fragile and based on fine details, we used a passive photometric stereo technique to recover surface normals and geometry for these regions.

Photograph of inscription: In this shot we visualize a Byzantine cross carved into one of the Parthenon's columns

Photometric Stereo equipment: To capture the photometric data we used a Canon 1ds digital camera with a remote flash. By setting the camera exposure for the flash and the using several flash position, we obtained photographs of the surface as lit by a set of linearly independent directional light sources. We triangulated lighting position using two black reflective balls, and lighting intensity using four patches of known reflectance. More information on the photometric technique is available in our Siggraph 2004 sketch (link)


Shot 5: The Cannonball in Negative Shader

The Acropolis mound has long been recognized for its defensive strength as it surrounded by steep cliffs. As early as 1400 BC prior to the building of the Parthenon, the location was used as a fortress by the Mycenaeans. The only entrance to Acropolis was from the west through the Propylaea temple. However with the advent of gunpowder, came the possibility for great damage to the Parthenon and other temples. In 1687, the Venetians lay seige to the Turkish occupied Parthenon and on September 26 after three days of shelling a direct hit ignited a store of gunpowder stored inside the Parthenon. The remaining internal walls and roof and blowing out many of the columns especially on the south side. Many of the sculptures were damaged or knocked down.

Pre-visualization of explosion:While we had hoped to try and recreate the explosion itself, the shot would be technically challenging. Also while paintings exist depicting the assault on the Parthenon and its prior state, it would be difficult to depict the shot while trying to maintain historical accuracy. .
Photograph of Actual Cannonball: The modern Parthenon is still scattered with debris including cannon balls and cracked columns where they were hit..

Scanned Model (vrml): More vrml models are available online in the Parthenon Gallery. Viewing the model requires VRML.


Shot 6: The Impact Crater in Negative Shader

To model an impact crater in a Parthenon wall, we repeated the same photometric stereo technique as in Shot 4. Unfortunately inner reflection in the hole made it harder to model precisely. As a result additional scaling and modeling were done using Maya. The results from the photometric stereo were then embossed as a displacement map onto the wall geometry.



Storyboard: Artistic previsualization of the cannonball impact

Photograph of Actual Impact Crater:


All Images Copyright © 2004 University of Southern California

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