Visualisation Best Practice & The London Charter

The London Charter (LC) is synonymous with visualisation best practice. First conceived in 2006, the current draft of The LC is well established, dating back to 2009. According to the Preamble, the principles outlined are an attempt to “ensure that digital heritage visualisation is, and is seen to be, at least as intellectually and technically rigorous as longer established cultural heritage research and communication methods.” In other words, it provides strict standards which all heritage visualisation projects should comply with. It made perfect sense for us to use this as a framework for our project, and it provided a sense of direction in terms of the research process as well as the deliverable for the project.

The objectives of the LC are as follows:
1. Provide a benchmark
2. Promote intellectual and technical rigour
3. Ensure that computer-based visualisation processes and outcomes can be properly understood and evaluated
4. Enable computer-based visualisation authoritatively
5. Ensure access and sustainability strategies
6. Offer a robust foundation

There are also a set of principles for the LC. They are as follows:
1. Implementation
2. Aims and Methods
3. Research Sources
4. Documentation
5. Sustainability
6. Access

The principles were so intrinsic to our project that they were used them to strategically plan the architecture of our blog. This post will provide an overview of how we applied the principles to our project, and will act at a reference guide to all the posts that pertain to each principle.

Principle 1. Implementation
According to this principle, the LC is “valid wherever computer-based visualisation is applied to the research or dissemination of cultural heritage”. It was important to address this at the outset. Was our project really a cultural heritage project? Absolutely! Our project certainly falls into the “Cultural Heritage” category. The old Abbey Theatre and its founders have loomed large as a presence in Irish cultural life for over a century.

All of our team was made aware of the LC from the outset, so they were able to use it as a sort of framework for their research, irrespective of the nature of their task (i.e. technical or non-technical). We examined it and used it to direct the course of our project. The nature of this project being an academic one meant the cost of implementation (which the LC specifically refers to as a point to be addressed) was not an issue – while sticking to LC guidelines meant that each step needed to be documented, there was no cost in terms of labour. In return, we hope to present this blog with its various different components, not just as a finished product, but as a comprehensive account of our entire research process. Not necessarily of economic value (although that would be a bonus!) but more importantly a rigorous piece of scholarly work. The process of documenting our decisions and presenting them in the blog indicates how much we’ve stuck to the implementation of the LC in this project. In fact as much of the value of what we have done lies in this documentation as it does in the visualisations themselves. A good deal of time was spent discussing our aims, objectives and methods at the beginning of our project, which leads us nicely into the next section…

Principle 2. Aims & Methods
One of the central tenets of this principle is the idea that visualisation should only be used when it’s deemed the most appropriate approach. Would creating a visualisation be a good option for us? Another resounding yes! Creating a computer-based visualisation of Gordon Craig’s Screens in a model of the old Abbey Theatre was an obvious choice for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the original stage no longer exists. It allowed us to create something that was easy to share with our audience. You can read more about our methodology here and how we came to decide to use SketchUp as our modelling software in this post. Our decision to use a blog (and indeed a WordPress blog at that) as our publication method of choice is documented in this post. And our choice of lighting software is documented here and here as well.

Our methodology was influenced by the fact that this was a team project. Interestingly we come from a variety of different backgrounds (I’m fast learning that this is almost mandatory on any Digital Humanities project!). It took us all some time to get familiar with the subject matter, all of us having limited knowledge of theatre history (LC 1.3; LC 4.9).

Principle 3. Research Sources
This principle gets its own standalone page. The Research Sources page contains a categorised list of all of our research material, including both technical and non-technical research. It includes and extensive list of all of the essays, chapters from books, articles, images, website, and online articles we have used to create our Visualisations (LC 3.1). We hope that by clearly categorising this it will be easy for our audience to navigate what has developed into comprehensive bibliography over the course of this project. All resources were evaluated by the individual contributor and deemed useful to share. Scholarly material was evaluated based on relevance to the visualisation project and the scholarly rigour of the piece (LC 3.2). As an aside, before we created this blog we used a Google Drive to share all of our project documentation, including work plans, images, models, and research sources. I’ll go into more detail on this in the next section…

Principle 4. Documentation
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the most detailed of all of the LC principles. We decided the in order to “enhance the visualisation activity by encouraging, and helping structure, thoughtful practice” as prescribed by this particular principle (LC 4.1), we would begin researching this project by looking at non-technical secondary literature first. In other words, by attempting to get a better understanding of the work and ideas of Gordon Craig, the dramatic works of W.B. Yeats, his approach to theatre, and indeed the interaction between the two men. You can find our project documentation here. Our blog was designed with one page for our 3D models, making it easy for users to access and compare them (LC 4.2). We’ve been conscious of IPR issues; these were especially important when it came to creating our visualisations from sketches that were still in copyright. We made a decision to create our own sketches of the original sketches we sourced, and then use these as the basis of our visualisations. (LC 4.3)

Our knowledge claims are documented in our aim (LC 4.4): each visualisation is evidence-based, informed by surviving sketches and secondary readings. As mentioned above, our research sources and their provenance have been made available (LC 4.5). Paradata (LC 4.6) is included in the various blog posts which describe the modelling process for each visualisation (these posts are all on the Visualisation page); no assumptions are made in terms of the technical know-how of our audience. In fact, the secondary reading which was carried out in order to inform our visualisation has also been captured on this blog, so there are no assumptions being made about non-technical know-how either. We hope that these posts will contextualise and illuminate many of our visualisation decisions.

Our posts clearly explain that our visualisations do not claim to be an accurate recreation of exactly how the plays were staged. Models were created on a best effort basis using the sketches we found. They were also informed by our secondary reading. They do not make any claims about what lighting was used or where the lighting; the properties of the screens – height, size, colour and texture – have been derived from secondary reading.

And now a brief word on data formats (LC 4.11; 4.12). One of the reasons we chose a WordPress blog as our publishing method of choice was because it supports 3D models. We felt that in order to produce a fully comprehensive tool, we really needed to have a platform that would be able to support our visualisation as well as act as a repository for all of our project documentation, resources, etc.

The rationale behind choosing a computer-based visualisation method (LC 4.7) is explained here; Description of the visualisation methods (LC 4.8) can be found here. Our models are available here. Dependency relationships are documented  – for example, when I was inserting my model of The Deliverer into the Abbey Stage, I had to make some minor adjustments – they are documented here (LC 4.10).

Principle 5. Sustainability
We implemented this project with the aim of making our research and models publicly available long term. Several measures were taken as a conscious effort to ensure our project is sustainable despite the rapidly changing nature of technology.  These efforts include:

  • attaching our project to the existing Old Abbey, 1904 project blog, which is funded and maintained by stakeholders.
  • uploading all research to a Google Drive account ( and making it accessible to stakeholders.
  • making the 3D models on the Google Drive publicly downloadable via links on the blog website. This way even if the model hosted by Sketchfab becomes unavailable our models can still be publicly accessed and downloaded.
  • thoroughly documenting our research and modelling processes including extensive screen grabs to make the project iterative. 
  • duplicating our body of work and distributing it to key stakeholders. 
  • the models are downloadable in .OBJ and .SKP formats. The models were exported in the .OBJ file format because it is an open file format and is arguably the most universally accepted file format for 3D models. .SKP is the native file format for SketchUp, which we used to create the models.
  • making a physical print-out of the entire site as a PDF (using the ‘Post PDF Export’ plug-in Version 1.0.1 by Christopher M.Diño), deposited with Dr Denard (LC 5.3)

Principle 6. Access
This principle is concerned with maximising the exposure  “creation and dissemination” of visualisations to the relevant audiences. So promotion and sharing.  Our project is potentially of interest to theatre historians, drama students, cultural heritage students, Yeats scholars, Abbey scholars, Craig Scholars. So how do we reach them? A variety of different ways:

We will share our blog with all those who helped contribute to the project. This includes individuals such as our Sponsor, Dr. Luiz Fernando Ramos, and Professor Christopher Baugh who helped us by providing information on patents of the screens; it also includes institutions like The Abbey Theatre, and The National Library. We will also circulate a link to relevant departments within Trinity including the Drama Department, the School of English, and of course the students and staff on our MPhil. In addition, reciprocal links with the Old Abbey Theatre Blog will be created, and Dr Denard will draw attention to the project in a conference paper at the annual International Federation of Theatre Research conference at the University of Warwick in August 2014. We hope that these steps will help to ensure our project reaches key interested audiences.