Mar 4, 2008

Three dimensional: Liberty goes 3D with Google Earth

by Brandon Gallagher

Four Liberty students have moved Liberty’s campus into the third dimension.
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In January 2007, a team of Liberty students participating in the Online Creative Services internship entered the 2007 Model Your Campus Project, sponsored by Google, and successfully crafted a 3-D version of Liberty into Google Earth.
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David Lee, Chris Wagers, Isaiah Gillis and Debbie Funk comprised the team.  They had a five month time frame to complete the 3-D rendering of the Liberty University Campus using Google’s 3-D-rendering SketchUp software. 
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The team first had to model and texture the buildings and worked closely with Liberty to ensure the accuracy of their work.  The Creative Media Services Office gave them the resources they needed such as blueprints, diagrams and up-to-date maps of campus.
“It took a tremendous amount of coordination with Liberty to complete this project,” Funk said. 
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“We had to draw up blueprints of buildings in order to render them, gather measurements to make sure they were sized correctly and arrange a flight with our aviation department to collect overview photographs of the campus,” Funk said.
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Each building was carefully molded and then photo-textured, which was a very tedious process.  Each tree, plant and shrub had to be edited out of the photos using Adobe Photoshop to ensure the texturing would appear normal when placed on the 3-D building.
“I was new to SketchUp, which has an unusual method of modeling.  It was quite a change for me,” said Lee, who led the team of students on the project.
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The team also ran into challenges placing the buildings into Google Earth.  The elevations of Liberty Mountain were incorrect in Google Earth, and the students had to find ways around these discrepancies.
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“Dave and I had a lot of problems placing the models…in Google Earth because the elevations are off, so our buildings would be floating on the map,” Wagers said.
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To correct the issues they were having, the team made foundations for the buildings to ensure the buildings had a resting place and would be flat.  In addition to the floating buildings, many of the parking lots, sidewalks and roadways were incorrectly rendered as well.
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The final step was to incorporate the building descriptions into the project using HTML.  The descriptions were taken from the Liberty University Course Catalog.
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The coordination and the problem-fixing took a lot out of the team, but the time consuming nature of the project and the multiple hours of work it took to make the project a success stood as the biggest issue the group faced.
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“For the actual competition, I spent roughly 300 hours working on it.  Since the competition ended in June, I’ve spent maybe another 40 hours just on updates.  Our campus is growing and changing daily, so it’s tough to keep it up-to-date,” Wagers said.
Even though the group did not place in the top seven in the competition, the experience was rewarding, and people are showing their appreciation to the team.
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“I think it’s rewarding to hear students and faculty that have said they saw the campus in Google Earth and how well it looks,” Wagers said. 
“The real reward is being able to portray Liberty’s campus in a popular piece of software as big as Google Earth.”

Contact Brandon Gallagher at bmgallagher@liberty.edu.


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