Photogrammetry Capture Brings Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling To Life In VR

Step into a painstakingly-crafted recreation of a historic masterpiece.

In 1508, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, a sculptor by trade, was forced against his will by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the legendary Sistine Chapel, a location within the holy Vatican City where new Popes are selected. Despite his hesitation towards taking on such a daunting task—Michelangelo was experienced with a chisel, not a brush—the reluctant artist would end up painting what is today considered a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art.

From the years of 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo painted 300 individual figures across the 6,000 sq ft. interior of the Sistine Chapel which depicted several scenes from the Old Testament, beginning with the Creation of the World. Now thanks to the tireless efforts of Epic Games’ Lead Technical Animator and self-proclaimed Michelangelo fan-boy, Christopher Evans, fans of the iconic sculptor, painter, architect, and poet have the chance to step into a painstakingly-crafted recreation of the historic art powered by Unreal Engine and the Valve Index VR headset.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Developed exclusively for SIGGRAPH 2019’s Immersive Pavilion, Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR offers attendees the chance to step into a near life-like VR rendition of the Sistine Chapel, complete with 100 clickable locations and an hour-long guided audio tour. Pieced together in Unreal Engine using 90 4K maps composed of 15-years worth of high-resolution scans and photographs, each piece of art included in the experience features an incredible amount of detail.

Trying the experience out for myself, I could actually see individual brush strokes and minute imperfections on each of the figures. This level of clarity was due in large part to the Valve Index, which provided stunningly-clear visuals and a generous field-of-view.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Despite the incredible urge to simply stare up in awe at Michelangelo’s masterful work, Il Divino is very much an interactive experience. Using a single Vive wand to navigate and interact with the environment, I was able to browse through 100 clickable locations that—when selected—triggered a guided audio tour narrated by Evans covering that specific piece of art.

For a closer look at some of the more elevated works, there’s the Vatican conservator’s mobile aerial platform, which elevates you up to the ceiling for a better view of the action; for a more old-school approach, there’s also Michelangelo’s original wooden scaffold. 

Image Credit: Epic Games

When it comes to photogrammetry technology, the skies the limit in terms of education and preservation. The ability to permanently capture and store photorealistic 3D renditions of real-world locations will ensure that future generations are able to immerse themselves in some of humankind’s most significant accomplishments. Il Divino is proof that photorealistic VR is not only possible, but already here.

Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR is available to demo now at SIGGRAPH’s Immersive Pavilion in Los Angeles, California now until August 1st. The experience will be released later this year for free as an educational resource via SteamVR.

Featured Image Credit: Epic Games

About the Scout

Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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