Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Museu do Computador

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About

Hello! My name is Breno Valli. I’m from São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil. Alongside my father, I’m the curator of a computer museum in Brazil, Museu do Computador. We founded the museum in 1998 and we have tons of technological artifacts like huge mainframes, punched card machines, PCs, peripherals, softwares, manuals, etc.

My father founded the first PC maintenance company, DATAROAD, in Brazil in 1979. At that time in Brazil, it was very rare to see a PC in person. I was born in 1980 and can remember our Apple III at home; we played games like Karateka, Conan the Barbarian, Captain Goodnight, and many others! Technology being part of my life since I was little was a big deal because I could understand how those technologies could be used in different aspects of life.

Jose Carlos Valli Museu do Computador

My father José Carlos Valli fixing an Apple II (1980) São Paulo – Brazil

In 1990-1991, my brother used 3ds Max (3D Studio at the time) to create some simple footage in which a car jumped over a bridge. I remember thinking that I would never be capable of doing that because, at that time, I just used a computer to play games.

Then, in 2005 I joined a class for 3 months to learn 3ds Max. It got me thinking about how I could use 3D to improve the experience in our museum. But at the time there was limited hardware to show off this kind of art the way I wanted to.

In 2001, I remember playing Shenmue I, a Dreamcast Sega game released in 1999 in which the main character Ryo could buy toy capsules and when he got the toy you could turn the item around with the controller. I always imagined that interactivity could be applied to our artifacts. 16 years later, that became possible with Sketchfab.

Shenmue (1999) Dreamcast (SEGA) – My dream was to create this for our museum (source)

When I found Sketchfab

In early 2017 I was casually browsing on Facebook and saw an article about Sketchfab. When I actually visited the website, I was astonished and imagined how my dream to show our technological artifacts on the web in a 3D environment within a regular browser could come true! I immediately got in touch with them and asked if they could help us by providing a free PRO plan.

Thomas Flynn replied on the same day and granted us a Pro account! That shows how they are committed to cultural heritage around the world and how they are always trying to make this community grow.

We created a few models of our game boxes and some other artifacts and we got a staff pick with our 3D box of the vintage game, “The Secret of Monkey Island”.

The Project

Due to the pandemic, our physical exhibition has been closed for almost two years, meaning that we have earned no revenue from visitors. Since 2019, I have been playing with Epic Games: Unreal Engine to create a virtual exposition but without virtual reality. In early 2021, my brother granted me with his old Oculus Rift VR set and that changed the game.

I began creating a virtual reality exhibition with some of our assets and we know that virtual reality sets are not popular yet and here in Brazil they are VERY EXPENSIVE. Our minimum wage is R$ 1.100,00 (reais) and an Oculus Quest 2, for example, costs R$ 4.500,00 (reais)!

With this obstacle, we know that we are far from VR sets being popular down here. So the idea is to sell live videos on Facebook while we are using the VR program that we created with Unreal Engine. Visitors will watch us using the VR set and explain computer history to them in about an hour. The good thing is that we can sell live videos not just for São Paulo, our city, but to the whole country!

Above is a beta of our virtual reality exposition created with Unreal Engine.

Using Sketchfab on the project

After the visitors watch the live videos, they will be able to access all the technological artifacts on Sketchfab, allowing them to better understand each technology. This is the most important thing in the project because viewers can study each artifact later on and have the freedom to analyze the artifacts within a 3D environment that only Sketchfab can provide.

This is our IBM 1401(1959), a very rare computer from IBM.

Advice for those getting started in 3D

There are two ways to bring your artifacts into a 3D environment. The first one is using a 3D program like Cinema 4D to model your artifact. Some objects will be very difficult to create in 3D if you don’t have any training and you will need a lot of study and experience before you can achieve acceptable results.

The second option is a photogrammetry program like RealityCapture. You can use your cellphone to take photos of all angles of the object and the program will automatically generate a 3D model of your object with textures. This is the best option today for cultural heritage digitization.

After that you can create your museum in Unreal Engine and allocate all your assets inside your virtual museum! Sketchfab helps by displaying your assets in a separate browser window.

With these three softwares all museums can become virtual. Use them!

The future of 3D for museums like ours

In the future, virtual reality museums like ours will be ordinary. For now we are one of the first museums in Brazil to sell live videos in this way. In a few years the hardware will not be a problem and most of the schools and universities will have a room for virtual reality, allowing visitors to visit museums all around the world using a VR set. Soon we will have a multiplayer mode in our virtual museum, letting people enter our lobby and visit the museum with someone from our crew who can explain the history of computers using a VR set.

A room with 69,444,000 1.44MB floppy disks compared to 50 modern 2TB microSD drives

Conclusion

Sketchfab is the future and the sooner your business gets into it, the better for you and your products. Soon companies will have virtual environments in which to sell their products to real buyers using VR sets. People will be able to check out products they want to buy and they will see exactly how they look and the size they are in real life. So the old problem of buying something over the internet that looks different than it does in pictures will be over.

R-Jane and Recyclotron Museu do Computador

Our mascots R-Jane (Recycling Jane) and Recyclotron in our virtual reality exposition

Other artists I like on Sketchfab

The first model I ever saw in Sketchfab was from Thomas Flynn and was a historical  mausoleum. I was instantly astonished by how that was possible. I kept looking at it for about 20 minutes and sending the link to everybody I knew. After seeing that model for the first time, I knew I could create great things for the museum.

Thanks

Thanks to Thomas Flynn and Alban who supported us since the beginning of our journey with this project without hesitation. Thanks to Abby for helping us to write this article.
Also thanks to Epic Games and Capturing Reality. Thanks to the Oculus Start Program.

Help us out

We are a computer museum in Brazil. We are closed due to the pandemic and are without funds.

Please support us via Patreon. Recyclotron and R-Jane are begging for help!

Anything will help! Please donate!

Museu do Computador Website

About the author

Breno Valli

Computer Museum Brazil Curator - VR Dev and 3D artist



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