New 3D virtual space promotes Vietnamese betel nut culture

New 3D virtual space promotes Vietnamese betel nut culture

Supported by a European Union initiative, RMIT University researchers have brought Vietnamese betel nut culture to global audiences through a 3D virtual experience.

The 3D project was completed by a team of RMIT Vietnam researchers, Dr Emma Duester, Mr Ondris Pui, and Ms Michal Teague, as part of an event called ‘Built with Bits’ organised by Europeana – the flagship initiative of the European Union to support digital transformation in the cultural heritage sector.

RMIT’s project consists of a free virtual space to help people understand more about Vietnamese betel nut culture through interactive 3D objects, text, images and videos.

The Vietnamese Betel Nut Village 3D virtual environment The Vietnamese Betel Nut Village 3D virtual environment

Betel nut chewing is a common tradition in South East Asia. In many ethnic groups in Vietnam, betel nut is an essential offering in weddings, funerals and festivities. Betel nut chewing remains a daily practice for many people living in rural communities. Tools used for this practice include boxes and trays to hold betel leaves, lime pots, lime spreading utensils, knives and spitting bowls. 

Ten such artefacts from the betel nut collection of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum were turned into 3D objects in an RMIT-led project that started in 2021. It was awarded the 'Beyond Borders Project' by Europeana.

Mr Ondris Pui, RMIT Associate Lecturer and technical leader for the virtual exhibition project, explained that the 3D objects were created with a method called photogrammetry.

“Around 100 to 200 photos of each artefact were taken from various angles with a mobile phone. The photos were then fed into a software for processing into 3D models. Complex artefacts such as garments and intricate objects were scanned using industrial 3D scanners,” he said.

Once in a 3D format, the assets can be used for various innovative purposes. For example, adding them into virtual reality and augmented reality spaces for educational purpose. This is exactly what RMIT has been doing in the Europeana-sponsored project.

Photo collage of RMIT and Vietnamese Women's Museum staff creating 3D objects from real artefacts RMIT researchers shared experience with staff of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum on how to scan 3D objects and publish them online.

Ms Michal Teague, RMIT Associate Lecturer and content curator for the virtual exhibition project, shared a behind-the-scenes fact: "We wanted people to know the actual size of artefacts within a 3D digital environment. Adding 3D mannequins to compare artefact sizes was an effective solution.”

“We also included artefacts from other countries such as Sri Lanka, New Guinea and India from the Europeana archives to give a comparison between different betel nut cultures,” she added.

Whereas actual artefacts are normally enclosed in a glass case, visitors to the 3D virtual space can rotate and zoom into individual artefacts without worrying about destroying them.

They can type text messages, scribble notes, add emojis, as well as chat with voice in the 3D space. Participants can access the 3D environment from their own devices such as mobile phones, computers and virtual reality headsets.

“It's basically a virtual space or Metaverse where group learning can occur visually online,” Mr Ondris Pui said.

In fact, RMIT Vietnam is introducing the 3D betel nut virtual space as part of its syllabus to encourage innovative learning. RMIT Learning Futurist Mr Nick McIntosh and the RMIT Learning Design team led by Ms Sasha Stubbs are working on the University’s Canvas learning system so that the content can be available to students and the public for use as a learning resource in the near future.

3D image of a betel nut container in the virtual space Adding 3D mannequins for comparison was an effective solution to help people understand the actual size of the artefacts.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 3D objects and digital environments have become more prominent and accepted as platforms to showcase museum artefacts online.

For the past two years, RMIT researchers have been working closely with museums in Vietnam, digitising artefacts into 3D models and providing innovative solutions to showcase them to the public.

They have shared experience with staff of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum on how to scan 3D objects and publish them online. The team is also working with the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum and Vietnam National Museum of History on digitisation.

Research team leader Dr Emma Duester is happy that the betel nut project was selected by Europeana.

“The ‘Beyond Borders Project’ is awarded to participants outside of the EU for projects that use the Europeana open license content, and have relevance and originality. To my knowledge, we are the first group from Vietnam to win the award,” she said.

Ms Le Cam Nhung from the International Cooperation Department of the Vietnamese Women's Museum is equally excited about the project.

"We are now able to share the museum's collection to the world,” she said, adding that the museum will include this virtual space on their website as an extension to their physical exhibits.

Visitors can access the 3D Vietnamese Betel Nut Village individually or in a group at Mozilla Hubs:

Story: Ngoc Hoang

28 March 2023


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