One of the scenes created by the research team, depicting a small temple in the surrounds of Angkor Wat. Tom Chandler and Brent McKee (Monash University)

Amazing Reconstruction Shows Daily Life Around Angkor Wat in Remarkable and Beautiful Detail

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A new project called Digital Angkor has reconstructed Angkor Wat and its surrounding environment in exceptional detail, shedding light on what daily life would have been like centuries ago at the ancient temple complex.  The everyday life of virtual Angkor Wat pulses away in real-time on a daily basis in a 3D world projected onto a wall at Monash University's Hargrave-Andrew library in Melbourne, Australia, for a demonstration running until the end of June.

Team Bring Back to Life Ancient Angkor

A virtual visualization of Angkor has become reality. An immense group of animation “geeks” have been taking on Angkor, and last month Tom Chandler, a PhD student at Monash University in Australia , revealed freshly developed animation that imagines ancient Angkor as a living, breathing virtual world. “We've got 25,000 what we call agents. They're little computer people who make very basic decisions about what they do every day. So there'd be certain ways you'd animate modern day Americans or Italians, for instance, versus how Japanese people would interact with each other. And when you're looking at crowds of people, these subtle differences make a big change," an excited Chandler tells ABC News about the ambitious project.

Stone sculpture workshop in the early Angkor Period. Tom Chandler and Brent McKee (

Stone sculpture workshop in the early Angkor Period. Tom Chandler and Brent McKee (Monash University), Martin Polkinghorne (Univeristy of Sydney)

3-D Scenes Draw Upon a Wide Range of Archaeological and Historical Data

So how did it all get started? Chandler “borrowed” studies and maps from some of the most decorated archaeologists and went on to develop Angkor into a three-dimensional landscape with people, animals, temples and vegetation resembling what they may have looked like in ancient times.  Chandler studied fine arts and archaeology, which helped him with this project. Additionally, Chandler is constantly improving the virtual world by changing the information given to the computer, depending on the kind of input he gets from archaeologists – such as the color of the temples for example – in order to represent a virtual world as realistically and historically accurate as possible.

"There's scant archaeological evidence of colored paints around the temples.  Everyone agrees the temples were colored, but, like the dinosaurs, we don't know what colors. I'm not trying to create something definitive, but the colors can be morphed and tested until we reach a consensus on what colors the temples may have been," he tells ABC News .

Thus, virtual Angkor is not yet a final product but more of a virtual world that will constantly evolve to reflect new archaeological discoveries in what Chandler has dubbed an "iterative dialogue". More importantly, some see Chandler's virtual Angkor as a possible future education tool, while others take a step further and suggest that it can be examined closer by archaeologists in order to reconsider the knowledge they have of this ancient world and pose new questions.

Difficulties Creating a Virtual Angkor

Despite all this sounding like a fun video-game like project to some, nothing has been easy for Chandler and his team so far. One of the hardest tasks of creating a virtual Angkor is inputting rice fields into the vast landscape, “We can't get the rice fields to work because it involves millions and millions of blades of grass. It just keeps crashing the computer," Chandler stated as National Geographic reports . For that reason, Chandler's team had to take the advice of experts on soil cores to confirm which plants existed at that time, and then flew over and took pictures of the trees before modelling and texturing the relatively geometrically complex objects.

For audio, he visited remote villages to record the unique ambient sound there, a mission that has become very hard as Cambodia keeps developing modern technology such as cell phones, motorcycles and so on.

Finally, Chandler appears confident that his project will continue developing smoothly, while he’s being very optimistic for the all the new information the archaeological excavations in the area can offer to his project, "I think to try and create the entire city of Angkor is always a goal, but we don't want to overstretch ourselves and rush too much. It's a vast city, so these things need to be taken one step at a time. It all depends on the time and the computer power and how accurate the archaeological surveys could be," he tells ABC News implying that the ambitious “Digital Angkor” project is more of a marathon than a sprint race.

Top image: One of the scenes created by the research team, depicting a small temple in the surrounds of Angkor Wat. Tom Chandler and Brent McKee (Monash University), Martin Polkinghorne (Univeristy of Sydney)

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