Making a Scene, Act II – Creating the 3D digital models by Sarah Bustamante-Brauning, Photography and Digitisation officer, Theatre Collection

Theatre is a collaborative art form.  It takes a whole team of people to take a play from page to stage.  All too often though, we only pay attention to the people performing onstage.  Those who work backstage go unseen by the audience, and it is difficult to know just what they do, and what career opportunities exist. 

Using Bristol Old Vic’s archives held at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, Making A Scene (funded by the Museums Association Digital Innovation and Engagement fund) aims to fill this knowledge gap by giving young people across Bristol the chance to peek behind the curtain….

These blogs, written by staff involved in the project from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, Bristol Old Vic and Zubr, a Bristol based Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality studio, are a behind the scenes look at the process of creating this behind the scenes resource.



The digitisation for the project started with me photographing the prompt script and some of the set designs for Babes in the Wood, including the beautifully drawn and painted backdrops and scenery.  Using these photographs, some pre-existing digital content relating to the production and snapshots of additional archive items, Harriet from Bristol Old Vic then organised these image files into the different acts and scenes, and, with Amy from Zubr, began to make the decisions about which of the models might be useful to capture in 3D for the Making A Scene app.

Setting up model box image with backdrops, scenery and model pieces

With the models brought back from the stores, I worked with another member of the Theatre Collection staff to carefully unpack the ones that had been selected for the project. It was great to see these wonderfully constructed models and the way they had been built with sturdy bases so they could stand, as well as the detail on them.

The next task was to start using photogrammetry to capture digital 3D versions of the models.  From a series of photographs of the models, photogrammetry works by finding important features on the individual images which are then located on the other images.  The software also identifies the camera positioning, which is used to make the 3D model surface.  From our initial research and discussions, and first experiments using Agisoft – the photogrammetry software we have been using to create the 3D digital object from a sequence of photographs – we identified the work would need to go through the following stages:

1.  Capture images of the model using a camera and a green screen

   2.  Organise these images ready to be used by the software and create digital ‘masks’ to mark the model out from the background, which avoids having to manually mask a large number of images


3. Complete the different stages in the software workflow, aligning the photographs to enable the ‘mesh’ required to create the object in 3D, before adding texture and colour

4.  Visually check the model now constructed in 3D and make any adjustments so its ready to be exported for specific outputs

Screen grab of MODEL/84/[14]

At first there were some issues to work through, but after some trial and error the first model was created where its now available to view in Sketchfab. It was exciting to see a digital version of the model I had been working with in the studio, with the ability to move it around on the screen so easily, being able to zoom into details and view it from different angles. This was so different to working with the original model which is very fragile as part of the stall panel is loose and extreme care needs to be taken when handling it. There were some issues that needed improving to make sure the digital version kept as much of the original model qualities as we could muster, but I was pretty pleased with the results.

As the project progressed and different models were captured different techniques were tested to see if the results of the 3D digital assets could be improved and match the originals more closely. One of the areas that was investigated was how to create the masks. Initially the models were photographed against the green screen but this left a slight green tint on the lighter parts of the digitised models. Later in the project a different method was tested to create the masks which allowed the model to be photographed against a white background. MODEL/84/[ 11] in Sketchfab was captured using this second masking approach. This reduced the green tint that can be seen on some of the models with lighter tones that would otherwise need to be manually removed from the model texture file in Photoshop.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Zubr begin to use these 3D models within the ‘app’.  At the Theatre Collection we’re going to digitally preserve them so that they will be available to be used again after the project has finished.

Working with Students and Visualising the Past

The Theatre Collection perspective – Dr Jill Sullivan, Assistant Keeper: User Services

As with many cultural and educational organisations, the lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic meant that the Theatre Collection team had to adjust the ways in which we interact with our users, especially students and researchers. Ideas about online access before Covid were suddenly becoming not only more urgent but also possible due to available funding and the support of the University’s IT Department and Digital Education Office. So it was, that in 2021 the Theatre Collection was able to announce its ‘virtual reading room’. Using a range of visualisers, team members were able to hold meetings online with researchers who were unable or chose not to visit at that time. The visualisers act as real time cameras and a small portable one was particularly effective, linked to a laptop for online meetings where we could show requested items to the researcher. One aspect of these meetings that was particularly useful was the ability to discuss materials with the researcher, identifying documents or pages of particular interest – for scans to be later provided, or for additional searches and follow up email conversations to take place.

In addition to running visualiser meetings ourselves, we also arranged for academic staff to work with the visualiser during teaching sessions, the students joining remotely to see selected materials from the Collection. While responses were nearly always positive and it was seen as a significant progression from simply presenting images on a PowerPoint (although that too had its place), there was an element of ‘trialling’ in this new way of working, and every example of using the visualisers added to our experience and ability to develop and hopefully improve the delivery of remote archive research for our users.

The Theatre Collection supports a range of units across the Faculty of Arts, in particular the Theatre Department, where archives from collections such as the Bristol Old Vic Company Archive are integral to units such as ‘Performing the Archive’ and ‘Performance Contexts’ and we always look forward to welcoming students into the reading room, introducing them to the incredible collections that we hold, and supporting them in their individual research and archival discoveries when working towards their assignments. In the academic year 2021-22 the physical experience of working with archives has been resumed – to the delight of staff and students alike, but there remain instances where the size of a class and the requirements of ventilation and social distancing necessarily caused us to have to rethink how we might run a session that maintains safety in a Covid-aware world while still enabling not just access to the collections, but a worthwhile learning experience.

During the early stages of TB1, Dr Kat Hipkiss and I met to discuss the second year Theatre unit ‘Performance Histories’ and how best we could run it, given the larger size of the seminar groups. The students had spent their first year 2020-21 looking at digitised images in a formal online session or, in the brief periods out of lockdown, visiting individually when able. The cohort were therefore only too ready to actually see the ‘real’ rather than virtual archive items and Kat and I wanted to encourage and enable this as safely as possible. We devised a solution, whereby the students formed study groups to select and request archive items relevant for particular plays and productions. Then during the seminars, with me on hand in the reading room and Kat in the remote seminar room with the remainder of the groups, two representatives from each group came to the Theatre Collection reading room to view the items in half hour slots. The students were shown how to operate the visualiser and they then used it to show and discuss the selected items with the rest of their group. The students (whether those operating the visualiser and working with the actual items or those who had been in the seminar room) were then able to book into the reading room at a later date to explore these or additional items for themselves. This would then enable all the students to have the opportunity of researching the archival materials.

As the half hour bookings progressed and the different pairs of students arrived to join Teams, work the visualiser and share the materials online, it quickly became apparent that this was proving to be really successful. Rather than the session being led by a member of staff, the students were being handed the responsibility of selecting items and effectively running the sessions, responding to and working collaboratively with their peers in the remote seminar room. Beyond liaising with students beforehand when items were originally being requested, and explaining how to work the visualiser, I actually had minimal input, although remaining nearby in case of problems or questions. In the seminar room, Kat was similarly able to answer or encourage questions. However, the students were clearly enjoying being in control of the process and the excitement of discovery and the enthusiasm for exploring items with guidance from their peers rather than staff, was palpable. Using a visualiser enables an ‘over the shoulder’ visual experience for the remote user and the students were quick to find and use features of the visualisers such as the zoom and rotate functions to pick out details and raise questions.

These sessions gave us an incredibly valuable insight into the way we might continue to work when needing to engage to some degree with remote learning. Combining research of the ‘real’ archive items with a student led process enabled it to be seen as not just another online learning tool, but an active and, importantly, collaborative process in which students took ownership of the learning experience.



Front and reverse of an advertising card for the melodrama ‘Why Woman Sins’ (MM/2/TH/SU/ML/1). Using the visualiser, students found that the apple created a 3D perspective.


The Tutor’s perspective – Dr Kat Hipkiss, Theatre Department

When I became the lecturer and seminar leader for the second year Theatre Studies unit ‘Performance Histories’, I asked each student to tell me their favourite thing they had studied so far and then what they were looking forward to most. A large proportion of them said they were most looking forward to the Theatre Collection sessions. There was something in their eagerness to get into the room, to physically interact with the archive and relish the materiality of items, that felt prompted by the digitisation of the world over the past few years. However, there were still Covid concerns to consider, and we needed to be aware of how best to balance these with the students’ enthusiasm for the material archive. It also emphasised to me how much I wanted to ensure that students had ownership over the process as much as possible, looking at the items they wanted to look at, in groups they themselves had formed based on their own research interests.

In order to ensure student and staff safety in the Theatre Collection, Dr Jill Sullivan (Assistant Keeper) and I devised a plan of having two representatives of each presentation group in the Theatre Collection whilst the rest were in the seminar room with me. Each group would have 30 minutes, and through a Teams meeting, would look at and discuss the items that had been requested. We hoped that this would enable that balance between keeping everyone safe, whilst also providing access to the material and giving students’ ownership of their research.

This approach required set up and preparation before the students went into the Theatre Collection. Students were shown how to use the Theatre Collection online catalogue to search for and request items, though what they requested was left open for each group. Jill also virtually attended the whole cohort lecture on the week of the Theatre Collection visits to demonstrate how to use the visualiser over a Teams meeting, so that when students went to their sessions, they knew how to operate it.

Importantly, there was also a theoretical setting up of the Theatre Collection sessions, as throughout the unit students had been asked to critically think about constructions of history and the role of the archive, including (on the week of the TC sessions) reading Rebecca Schneider’s ‘Performance Remains Again’ (2012). This preparation meant that, although students may not have known what they were looking for, they were more aware of how to look for it and how to think about it critically.

When it came time for the in-class 30 minute Theatre Collection visits, it became clear that students were prepared to take ownership over their session and the visualiser technology. The students in the seminar room with me would guide those in the Theatre Collection, asking questions about the items in order to narrow focus and draw attention to certain parts (such as ‘what does it say on the back?’; ‘can you zoom in on that part?’; ‘is there anything else like that one?’). Often those in the Theatre Collection would get excited about particular items and build a sense of anticipation for those in the seminar room. It was particularly apparent how comfortable the students were with the visualiser itself, utilising functions such as the zoom or rotate to get the most out of the material, sometimes affording what felt like a privileged view for those in the seminar room. Yes, they were not there with the item, but they were getting a zoomed in picture projected onto the wall of the classroom. Often students would move right up to this projected image and interrogate the small details that now were the same size as them.

After the in-class sessions had finished, it was clear how much the technology had impacted how the groups worked. Those in the Theatre Collection quickly became effective in communicating what they had in front of them and what was coming up next. In most cases there were two students in the Theatre Collection, and they worked together with one operating the visualiser and the other prepping the appropriate materials for what would be looked at next. Because of this, the visualiser became the place where the most interesting, detailed, and relevant documents were presented by those in the Theatre Collection to those in the seminar room. The fact there had to be the visualier meant that there was an active filtering of material in order to use the 30 minute slot most efficiently. This enabled students to be a lot more specific in what they were looking at (even if when started they did not know what they were going to be looking for or what their argument was going to be). It meant they had to hone in on something they found interesting and interrogate it as a group, forming arguments as they went, as opposed to all looking at different items and forming individual arguments about them. The use of the visualiser necessitated communication and group focus, and meant that by the end of the 30 minutes, each group had a short list of items they were going to consider further and the basis of a critical argument.

All groups used items from the Theatre Collection in their final presentations for the unit, and each also used their work and conversations from the remote visualiser sessions in their central arguments. From my perspective as a teacher on the unit, the visuliser sessions were highly successful. Not only did the visualiser allow students to use the archive in a Covid safe way, but the technology itself created both constraints and opportunities that helped shape the students’ experience of the Theatre Collection.

Making A Scene, Act 1 – Harriet Wilson, Heritage Participation Producer, Bristol Old Vic

Theatre is a collaborative art form.  It takes a whole team of people to take a play from page to stage.  All too often though, we only pay attention to the people performing onstage.  Those who work backstage go unseen by the audience, and it is difficult to know just what they do, and what career opportunities exist. 

Using Bristol Old Vic’s archives held at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, Making A Scene (funded by the Museums Association Digital Innovation and Engagement fund) aims to fill this knowledge gap by giving young people across Bristol the chance to peek behind the curtain….

These blogs, written by staff involved in the project from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, Bristol Old Vic and Zubr, a Bristol based Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality studio, are a behind the scenes look at the process of creating this behind the scenes resource.

Model box designed by Colin Winslow, Babes in the Wood, Bristol Old Vic Company (2000). MODEL/84

At Bristol Old Vic, I share an office with our stage management team. When we were discussing what Making A Scene should look like, I began to notice that at their end of the office the answer to almost any question about a particular production was “check in the book”. 

The book they were referring to was the prompt script. It contains all the information necessary to stage a production: the script marked up with blocking and cues; a scenic design plan; costume design sketches; lists of props; and lighting, sound, and special effects cues. 

Prompt script, Babes in the Wood, Bristol Old Vic Company (2000). BOV/3/2/732/1/1

A good prompt script is a record of the work and skill of the creative and backstage teams, which is exactly what we wanted Making A Scene to be. Our stage management team had unknowingly given us the perfect frame to build our resource around (they have been thanked with biscuits since). All we had to do was find some exciting content to put in it. 

The Bristol Old Vic Company archive at the Theatre Collection has nearly 1,000 (or equivalent) boxes of material, so we certainly had plenty of options. Because of the incredible breadth of material at our disposal, we originally considered making a mash-up prompt script which showcased several iconic Bristol Old Vic productions. 

However, the more time we spent researching, the more it became clear that it was a much stronger idea to focus on a single production. I wanted everyone using Making A Scene to have the same experience I had in the reading room of seeing a production come to life before my eyes. To see a sketch transform into a model box (a scaled-down 3D model of what the designer thinks the set should look like) and into a finished piece of set, and so on. 

Making a final decision as to which production this would be was probably the most exciting and the most frustrating part of the research process. Archives are spaces of gaps and silences and every production we considered seemed to be missing something. A production with a beautiful model box and a detailed lighting plan didn’t have costume sketches or technical details. A production with detailed stage plans and rehearsal notes had no set designs or model box. Our search went on and on. 

After a lot of looking, we managed to find two strong options. Henry V from 1964 and Babes in the Wood from 2000. The final decision came down to the richness of the material to hand and the emotional resonance of the production. Babes in the Wood was the final pantomime staged at Bristol Old Vic and we all felt that choosing a pantomime would inject a sense of fun to the project development as well as the end product. 

Production photograph by Bob Willingham, Babes in the Wood, Bristol Old Vic Company (2000).  BOV/3/2/732/6/3

The prompt script for Babes in the Wood also documents every minute stage of the production process. You get a sense not just of what every backstage role involves, but the day-to-day reality of doing it. Beautiful set design sketches sit side by side with notes scrawled on scraps of paper asking someone to give them a ring when they get back from lunch.

Model box designed by Colin Winslow, Babes in the Wood, Bristol Old Vic Company (2000). MODEL/84

The prompt script is also accompanied by a phenomenally detailed model box with multiple cloths, wings, trucks, and props which we knew could form the perfect basis for a truly immersive augmented reality experience. Sarah, the digitisation officer at the Theatre Collection, and Zubr had the same head over heels reaction to the possibility of 3D scanning and augmenting each individual piece that I had to the possibility of reproducing the prompt script. Sarah will be blogging about her process to create 3D digital models later on.

Such was the richness of the material that by the time we began to put the final resource together I think everyone involved felt like they had seen Babes in the Wood. My hope is that everyone using the resource feels the same!