But now motion capture is being used to digitally recreate two of Hull’s most significant figures which will then be projected at various points across the city.
Digital 3D versions of William Wilberforce – the Hull-born MP who pioneered the abolition of slavery movement in the 19th century – and Amy Johnson – the first woman to fly a plane solo from England to Australia – are being created in a project involving the city’s university.
The characters are based on the recorded movements of live actors using full body motion tracking and facial capture techniques.
This is how Hollywood studios create creatures and characters for films such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings or the Hulk character in the Marvel Avengers films.
Now Wilberforce and Johnson could be appearing like Pokemon go characters on the streets.
The characters are being created by Hull’s Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE), part of Hull University’s Computer Science department, and experts in 3D visualisation the Digital Design Studio at the Glasgow School of Art. Dr Jon Purdy the HIVE manager said: “We are planning to use them in lots of different ways - with virtual reality headsets that you can wear and look at them; augmented reality versions so you can see them standing in the street when viewing them through an i-Pad.”
Dr Purdy said he was prompted by a visit to the Battle of Bannockburn Centre in Scotland, which used motion capture technology to recreate historical characters. “I got asked the question about creating an exhibition for the Amy Johnson Festival and working with the Wilberforce Institute and Museum to bring the stories alive.”
Building the Amy Johnson’s character was said to be easier than Wilberforce as they had lots of film footage to mine for information about how she walked and what she looked like.
She is shown in flying gear in front of her Gipsy Moth Jason, giving different speeches about her motivation, her flights and how success changed her life
“The idea was if we build a digital version we can use it to build games so children can recreate the flights, plan the journeys and land in the difficult places she did.”
There are four versions of Wilberforce throughout his life, the last depicting him as old man, sitting in a chair reflecting on his life.
There’s also a digital version of Olaudah Equiano, the famous former slave, who wrote an autobiography depicting the horrors of slavery and who lobbied Parliament for its abolition.
They are still developing how they will be used: “We are asking for suggestions for games that use the characters from students, the public and some of the games companies.”Once they captured the raw footage, the team apply 3D modelling visual effects and animation techniques to create the digital characters.
Dr Purdy added: “It’s an honour to get the opportunity to recreate two pioneering historical figures using movie-standard special effects. The technology we’ve adopted means the Amy and William characters will be recreated in a very realistic way and in high definition.
The characters will recount stories from their life – retelling significant points in history in an unusual and interactive way.”
Raw footage of Ms Johnson and actress Rachel Harris was captured and computer scientists then applied 3D modelling effects and animation techniques to create the character.
A model of 19th century MP William Wilberforce, who pioneered the abolition of the slavery movement, is also being developed.
“Virtual Amy” will go display in the children’s library within Hull Central Library as part of the Amy Johnson Festival.
Festival director Rick Welton said: “The Virtual Amy project showcases how the technology and engineering can be used to create something visually stunning.
“The aim of the Amy Johnson Festival is to inspire people, especially women, to take an interest in engineering, as well as demonstrating how engineering blends with art and design.”
Dr Jon Purdy, Hive centre manager, said: “It’s an honour to get the opportunity to recreate two pioneering historical figures using movie-standard special effects.
“The technology we’ve adopted means the Amy and William characters will be recreated in a very realistic way and in high definition. The characters will recount stories from their life - retelling significant points in history in an unusual and interactive way.”
GSA was also involved in creating 3D characters for the award-winning Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre near Stirling.
Dr Paul Chapman, acting director of the GSA Digital Design Studio, said: “We’re very happy to have worked with the University of Hull on this project creating the high-quality motion capture and 3D modelling of Amy Johnson and William Wilberforce.
“We feel positive that the exhibition will be a success and will highlight the incredible lives of these two pioneers.”