Assassin’s Creed Won’t Help: An Expert’s Opinion on Restoration of Notre Dame

On April 15, a massive fire engulfed Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. While the fire destroyed its roof and iconic spire, firefighters were able to save the famed bell towers. The French government has already established four reconstruction funds (over €1 billion has been raised to date), while French President Emmanuel Macron promised that the landmark will be fully restored in five years with the help of the world’s best architects. Can 3D modeling benefit the reconstruction process? Could video games come in handy too? In this interview with ITMO.NEWS, Artem Smolin, the head of ITMO’s Educational Center of Graphic Technologies and the Center for Usability and Mixed Reality, shares his opinion on the use of modern technologies in the cathedral’s reconstruction.

Fire in the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. Credit: BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

On the day after the fire, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders offered Emmanuel Macron their assistance in the restoration of the landmark. Meanwhile, people all over the world are coming up with their own ideas about how to restore the building. Some even suggested using the 2014 video game Assassin’s Creed Unity. Set in Paris during the French Revolution and following the story of the Order of Assassins, the game was praised by critics for its astonishing visuals and historical accuracy; Caroline Miousse, a level artist on Assassin’s Creed Unity, spent about two years perfecting the Notre Dame’s in-game appearance, right down to ensuring that each brick is where it should be.

The game’s creators, the French video game company Ubisoft, has already donated €500,000 to help with the restoration and reconstruction of the cathedral and is now handing out free copies of Assassin’s Creed Unity until April 25.

Notre Dame de Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity. Credit: gq.com.au
Notre Dame de Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity. Credit: gq.com.au

However, Assassin’s Creed is not the only resource featuring a detailed 3D model of the renowned cathedral. An art historian named Andrew Tallon had used lasers to “scan” Notre Dame right down to the millimeter in an effort to understand how medieval builders constructed their architectural masterpieces.

This is how the technology works: mounted on a tripod, a laser beam sweeps its surroundings and measures the distance between the scanner and every point it hits. Each measurement is represented by a dot, which cumulatively create a three-dimensional image of the location. To learn more about Dr. Tallon’s work, read the article in National Geographic or watch a video about his use of lasers for collecting data about Washington National Cathedral.

Using 3D models in restoration

According to Artem Smolin, the head of ITMO’s Educational Center of Graphical Technologies and the Center for Usability and Mixed Reality, 3D models of the cathedral from the video game can come in handy, but it’s not yet clear if the renovators will actually need them.

“Though detailed and historically accurate, video game models are not exactly something that architects and historians would use when renovating such a historical building,” explains Artem Smolin. “It's far more likely that they’ll require its design documentation. Only the best of the best will be allowed to participate in the restoration”.

Artem Smolin
Artem Smolin

How will the restoration be done?

According to Artem Smolin, just as with any other historical object, there are two options: either to restore the building to its original state or preserve the cathedral in its current state.

Notre Dame was already in the midst of renovation before the fire, but now it might take years to finish the restoration. As French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, international experts will be invited to take part in the renovation of the spire, but it’s yet to be decided whether it will be a copy of the old one or a modern adaptation.

Journalist
Archive by year: