JAMsj presentation focuses on ‘digital reconstruction’ of concentration camps


A virtual reconstruction overview of the Topaz (Central Utah) wartime concentration camp. courtesy of Elizabeth Lee

A virtual reconstruction overview of the Topaz (Central Utah) wartime concentration camp. courtesy of Elizabeth Lee
A virtual reconstruction overview of the Topaz (Central Utah) wartime concentration camp. courtesy of Elizabeth Lee

SAN JOSE — Individuals will soon be able to virtually experience the sights and sounds of the wartime American concentration camps, including the barracks and gardens, through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Elizabeth Lee, the director of operations of the nonprofit organization CyArk, recently discussed the “digital reconstruction” project in her presentation, “CyArk: Digital reconstruction of Manzanar, Topaz and Tule Lake,” at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. A crowd of about 50 attendees listened to her discuss CyArk’s efforts to “digitally preserve and virtually reconstruct” the concentration camps through 3D technology. In her presentation, she talked about the process used to create the models of the camps and the technology used for the digital reconstruction.

The goal of the project is to enable people to experience what the camps were like through the Internet, as well as through tablets and smartphones, Lee said at the March 16 presentation.

“The concept is that people who cannot visit can explore (the camps) virtually. We’ve tried to recreate them authentically. We want people to be able to explore and dig in and create their own experiences,” she said.

She said that through the project, people can also take their mobile devices to the concentration camps and view the camps both as they exist today and during the 1940s.

CyArk, which is based in Oakland, Calif., concentrates on digitally preserving cultural heritage sites using digital modeling, laser scanning, and other types of cutting-edge technology. Through a partnership with the

National Park Service and various independent researchers, CyArk has created historic models of the concentration camps.

The CyArk project was developed in 2011 through a grant from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites program. The goal of the project is to use new digital tools with a focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The project aims to enable the public to learn about the concentration camps and their history through an interactive experience that combines three-dimensional representations of the three concentration camps, historical information and video interviews.

Lee explained that through digital preservation, the project has sought to capture the landscape in 3D using photography, laser scanning and GPS. The project incorporates distinctive aspects of each site, including landscape portions such as gardens and rocks.

Lee said that the “geo-referenced” data set laid the groundwork for the 3D digital reconstruction model. For instance, CyArk concentrated on recreating Manzanar’s Merritt Park. While it is now a dusty and barren area, the virtual recreation allows users to see that, in the 1940s, the site contained picturesque rose bushes and a waterfall.

Lee added that spatial technology was used to reconstruct the barracks at Manzanar.

“We used scanning to capture the texture and to inform our 3D reconstruction,” she said, adding that the first site captured through 3D technology was the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp.

For the digital reconstruction of Topaz, she said that CyArk worked closely with the Topaz Museum Board.

“We have a great collection of artwork,” she said.

She said that after the 3D capture was finished, CyArk began to virtually reconstruct the sites. She said that CyArk used oral histories, expert knowledge and historical photos in order to create the reconstruction.

She added that for the Tule Lake portion of the digital reconstruction project, the Tule Lake Segregation Center jail was one of the main focus areas. One of the goals was to capture the inscriptions that were written or carved on the jail walls.

Additionally, she explained that CyArk took 3D images and put them into a video game environment.

“The gaming technology adds a lot of information,” she said, adding that it is essentially a “shell” for the digital reconstruction.

“The concept is that people who cannot visit will be able to explore it through an animated virtual tour,” she said.

Moreover, Lee said that CyArk plans to bring the 3D reconstruction to mobile devices.

CyArk plans to release the complete Web portal and interactive portions later this year on the CyArk Website.

“The mobile (portion) will be similar to the Web portal. It will have components of a virtual tour,” she said.

Lee said that people have commented on the realism of the models.

“I had a personal experience where I was meeting a group in Denver. I was talking to someone who had been at Manzanar. We had a wind sound, and as soon as she heard it, she started crying. It brought back a lot of emotion. It was obviously a very sensitive subject,” she said.

For more information on the digital reconstruction project, visit CyArk’s Website at www.cyark.org.

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