Golan Levin, Paul Debevec: Rouen Revisited

  • ©1996, Golan Levin and Paul E. Debevec



    Rouen Revisited


Creation Year:



Artist Statement:

    Between 1892 and 1894, the French Impressionist Claude Monet produced nearly 30 oil paintings of the main facade of the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy. Fascinated by the play of light and atmosphere over the Gothic church, Monet systematically painted the cathedral at different times of the day, from slightly different angles, and in varied weather conditions. Each painting, quickly executed, offers a glimpse into a narrow slice of time and mood.

    We are interested in widening these slices, extending and connecting the dots occupied by Monet’s paintings in the multi-dimensional space of turn-of-the-century Rouen. In Rouen Revisited, we present an interactive art installation in which users are invited to explore the facade of the Rouen Cathedral as Monet might have painted it, from any angle, time of day, and degree of atmospheric haze. Users can contrast these re-rendered paintings with similar views synthesized from century-old archival photographs, as well as from recent photographs that reveal the scars of a cen­tury of weathering and war.

    Rouen Revisited is our homage to the hundredth anniversary of Monet’s cathedral paintings. Like Monet’s series, our instal­lation is a constellation of impressions, a document of moments and precepts played out over space and time. In our homage, we extend the scope of Monet’s study where he could not go, bringing forth his object of fascination from a hundred feet in the air and across a hundred years of history.

    The Technology
    To produce renderings of the cathedral’s facade from arbitrary angles, we needed an accurate, three-dimensional model of the cathedral. For this purpose, we made use of new modeling and render­ing techniques developed at the University of California at Berkeley that allow three-dimensional models of architectural scenes to be constructed from a small number of ordinary pho­tographs.¹ We traveled to Rouen in January 1996, where, in addition to taking a set of photographs from which we could generate the model, we obtained reproductions of Monet’s paintings as well as antique photographs of the cathedral as it would have been seen by Monet.

    Once the 30 model was built, the photographs and Monet paintings were registered with and projected onto the 30 model. Re-renderings of each of the projected paintings and photographs were then generated from hundreds of points of view; renderings of the cathedral in different atmospheric conditions and at arbitrary times of day were derived form our own time-lapse photographs of the cathedral and by interpolating between the textures of  Monet’s original paintings. The model recovery and image renderings were accomplished with custom software on a Silicon Graphics lndigo.² The Rouen Revisited interface runs in Macromedia Director on a Power Macintosh, and allows unencumbered exploration of more than 20,000 synthesized renderings.

    1 Paul E. Debevec, Camillo Taylor, and Jitendra Malik. Modeling and rendering architecture from photographs: A hybrid geometry and image-based approach. Technical Report UCB//CSD-96-893, U.C. Berkeley, CS Division, January 1996.

    2 http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/