Original Article

Virtual Reality

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 155-182

First online:

Illuminating the past: state of the art

  • Jassim HappaAffiliated withInternational Digital Laboratory, University of Warwick Email author 
  • , Mark MudgeAffiliated withCultural Heritage Imaging
  • , Kurt DebattistaAffiliated withInternational Digital Laboratory, University of Warwick
  • , Alessandro ArtusiAffiliated withCASToRC Cyprus Institute
  • , Alexandrino GonçalvesAffiliated withResearch Center for Informatics and Communications, Polytechnic Institute of Leiria
  • , Alan ChalmersAffiliated withInternational Digital Laboratory, University of Warwick

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Virtual reconstruction and representation of historical environments and objects have been of research interest for nearly two decades. Physically based and historically accurate illumination allows archaeologists and historians to authentically visualise a past environment to deduce new knowledge. This report reviews the current state of illuminating cultural heritage sites and objects using computer graphics for scientific, preservation and research purposes. We present the most noteworthy and up-to-date examples of reconstructions employing appropriate illumination models in object and image space, and in the visual perception domain. Finally, we also discuss the difficulties in rendering, documentation, validation and identify probable research challenges for the future. The report is aimed for researchers new to cultural heritage reconstruction who wish to learn about methods to illuminate the past.


Cultural heritage Computer graphics Image-processing Rendering Global illumination Reflectance transformation imaging High dynamic range imaging Sky modelling Flame modelling Colour science Visual perception