Although it isn’t as famous as the Boston Tea Party, the Gaspee Affair had an equally important effect on the American Revolution. The Gaspee was a British ship that patrolled the Narragansett Bay of Rhode Island, harassing colonists and interfering with their trade. In 1772 Americans attacked the ship and set it on fire, thus setting the stage for the rebellion that would turn into the War of Independence.
For Adam Blumenthal, Professor of the Practice and Virtual Artist-in-Residence at Brown, this forgotten episode in history was a perfect candidate for reconstruction in virtual reality (VR). “It’s a dramatic story,” he says, “with cannon fire and gunshots and boat chases, but it’s also significant on the national stage. I chose it in part with Rhode Island pride, and I thought that with the wow factor of VR this Rhode Island story could be better known.” Many of the locations where the story unfolded are well preserved, and the university has archives and artifacts to lend reality to the experiment.
So with a team of students and a Jump camera, Blumenthal began drafting scripts, designing sets, and building a detailed virtual world for his students to interact with the past. He notes that “one of the things I love about VR is its ability to put people in places that are otherwise impossible and in this case that’s stepping back in time in these very authentic recreations.” In addition to the students, Blumenthal recruited historical re-enactors to shoot several “scenes” at nearby colonial sites: an eighteenth-century tavern, a court house, the private home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a ship captain’s quarters. Unlike in a film production, though, this rig comprised sixteen cameras producing 360-degree stereoscopic images in as high as 8K resolution.