THE ARA PACIS HOW IT WAS: an innovative combination of cinema, art and technology

actor Fabrizio Bordignon playing Augustus

“L’ARA COM’ERA” (THE ARA HOW IT WAS), one of the most important masterpieces of Roman art, older than the Colosseum, After the resounding success of previous programs, with the first systematic redevelopment project in augmented reality – that have counted about 11.000 visitors – it becomes now even more compelling.

As of January 19, in fact, Roman citizens and tourists from all over the world, can experience the innovative story about the famous Age Augustae monument, about the origins of Rome and more, which – thanks to the successful combination of live footage, 3D reconstructions and CGI – allow a total immersion in the ancient Campus Martius.

PH Giorgia Scialanga

Visitors will be catapulted back in time and, in a 360° scenario, will admire the Ara Pacis with the original colors of leathers, “floating” in the air above the altar and enjoy the initial reconstruction in the virtual reality of a religious ritual, the sacrifice of the bull, performed by real actors with customs and traditions of the time.

The viewers – fitted with specially designed VR glasses (Samsung GearVR) and camera device inserted in them – will start the experience with today’s Ara Pacis shooting, and then moving into a white space where they will see a special guide, The Emperor Augustus, who will accompany them in this emotional journey to the discovery of the entire Campus Martius  area, including the Pantheon, The Saepta Julia, the Augustus’s Mausoleum and the Roman Aqueduct. After this journey the visitor will be brought to see the configuration of reliefs: the sacrifice of Aeneas, the birth of Romulus and Remus, the goddess Rome, the vegetable frieze, among others portraits.

The visit also extends from a numerical point of view: every evening – Friday and Saturday from 7:30pm to midnight – will accommodate up to 400 visitors (compared to 300 of the programs of the previous three months) that will be organized in groups of six or seven people.

The project, promoted by Roma Capitale, Department of Cultural Growth – Superintendent Capitolina Cultural Heritage and organized by Zètema Culture Project, is produced by ETT Spa. The live footage on a big green screen and those in virtual reality 360° are been realized by Alessandro Parrello for WEST 46TH FILMS, while all the computer graphics has been created by Federico Basso, for Toon Taun Animation Studio, both present at the opening event with the ETT spa managers. The male voice of the video is the actor Luca Ward.

Federico Basso and Alessandro Parrello. Ph Giorgia Scialanga

We asked some questions to Federico Basso and Alessandro Parrello, excited about the evening.

Federico what it meant for you to work on such innovative project like this?

Surely it was exciting because it’s the maximum of immersivity currently granted by the technology. I wanted it to be, for the visitor, an emotional journey, with all the risks and the problems that this would entail, so I immediately place the focus on the beginning, the moment when the viewer has to immerge himself in the past. I didn’t want to make a violent transition between the present and the past, so I studied this sort of ethereal, initial limbo, in which appears Augusto, acting as a bridge, as a decompression chamber, entering slowly, almost at the tip feet, in this past so different from ours. For this reason, the Campus Martius is populated by groups of men and women who walk, as we do today, with these effects of lights and colors to play the slow movement of the sun, with its sunsets and sunrises.

What was the most challenging part of making the video? Did you have any particular difficulties?

The final moment, that of the bull sacrifice before the altar, was for me the most difficult hurdle to overcome from a technical point of view. I initially pushed to do everything in computer graphics but recreate thus a living human figure did not seem the best choice, because I didn’t want to produce something too artificial looking. So we decided to film with actors, definitely more realistic but, to realize a scene with a 360° scenario, filmed only on a green screen, we needed specific softwares able to “stitch” property the footage.

For this special work did you get inspired by any other similar projects?

I have done much research in this direction but I have not found anyone who had realized, before us, such a radical solution on 360°. Ours is an almost pioneering work and in fact, I have to admit that, although Alessandro was quite sure about the result, I thought at some point that we wouldn’t make it. We worked hard, day and night, and in certain situation we risked. But it went well. And I’m very happy!

Alessandro how did your approach to this project?

With ETT was born a collaboration more than a year, and last October I was asked an opinion about the feasibility of combining live footage with real actors into a 360° virtual context.

Since this is a technology that I’m developing and having previously filmed in green screen, I said it would have been feasible and also fun. I liked the idea of ​​a combination among cinema, culture and new technologies, and from my side I called some of the best professionals in the cinema industry, like the young director of photography Francesco Ciccone, the costume designer Monica Trappolini (Monte), the set designer Vito Zito and the Italian Oscar Award winning hair stylist Francesco Pegoretti (Tale of Tales), in order to make all the the actors as real as possible, perfectly matched with the CGI, but considering the final fruition of the video. We did a specific research and putting attention to every detail. On the set, I really enjoyed myself to coordinate the actors in an “imaginary” Ara Pacis.

What was the most challenging part of your work?

Surely the casting of the right faces. In every project if the actors on screen are credible, everything becomes credible. It wasn’t easy to put together in just over a week 18 actors of different ages, but in the end I made it and I’m very happy with the result. I also want to thank the Gruppo Storico Romano, (Gladiator School Rome) which I contacted and they allowed me to choose some of their actors, even of old age, with their perfect faces for the Ancient Roman representations. As for the technical part I was quiet sure and we chose a camera with 5k of resolution, in order to use the footage also on the next generation of cell phones, with higher screen resolution.

How did you approach to virtual reality?

I’m a nerd for new technologies, especially about cinema equipment and I like to play around with the cameras. I live often in USA and I was studying the developments of the VR for about a year, checking out its potential and how to make a complete video. Last December I purchased a brand new spherical camera system in 4K, that I used to make the 360° shooting inside the Ara Pacis as it is today, and that you saw in the video. The effect as you pointed out is amazing and it really seems to be in there. In the US they are already way ahead with VR, while here in Italy we are the pioneers, but the potential uses of this new way of capturing reality are so many and we wanted to find ourselves ready!

by Valeria Campana


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