Seeing double: Sands Point Preserve’s Hempstead House conserved through digital twin

Seeing double: Sands Point Preserve’s Hempstead House conserved through digital twin
A crew member uses a drone to take photos of the exterior of the Hempstead House to be turned into a digital model. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

For more than 110 years, the Sands Point Preserve Hempstead House has hosted guests from all walks of life: the partygoers invited by the Guggenheim family – the original homeowners – in the early 20th century to visitors to the preserve today.

But very soon the Hempstead House will be enjoyed by individuals globally, many of whom can’t travel to see the home in person, through a digital twin of the house that viewers can click through on their devices.

The Hempstead House was designed in 1912 for the Guggenheim family, who previously lived on what is now the preserve, and is one of the four mansions on the property. The Tudor-style home was where the Guggenheims stayed during the summer months and was a gathering place for the elite of the early 1900s.

The 50,000-square-foot, three-story mansion encompasses 40 rooms and a 60-foot-tall entry foyer, embodying the opulence of the Roaring Twenties.

With a rich history

Cinematic Digital Experience is a company started by Allan Barmak and Jeff Gross that specializes in digital marketing by creating virtual renditions of locations to be used for a variety of services.

Barmak said they started their company to utilize cutting-edge technology to promote locations throughout the county by creating these “digital twins” of spaces. He said this is the most important technological advancement since the invention of the photograph.

The efforts of Barmak and Gross are to preserve local histories, focusing on historical buildings and landmarks across the country.

“We’re building an initiative for the digital preservation for historic landmarks,” Barmak said.

The result will be an entirely computer-generated, three-dimensional replica of the house, with interactive features for viewers to click through the house and learn about its history and details.

“It is actually going to be a 3-D world so that someone can come in and walk into this,” Barmak said.

While the digital twin of the Hempstead House is not ready yet, it is anticipated to be finished within the next couple of weeks.

Barmak said that while many of the digitization of historical records have focused on objects, like the Smithsonian’s initiative to digitize artifacts, their company is the only one focusing on the digital preservation of historical buildings.

“We use that same technology actually for educational purposes,’ Barmak said. “God forbid something happens to these historical locations that we’re working with. Now we have a digital record of the property.”

These three-dimensional virtual renditions also provide “opportunities for engagement,” Barmak said, to enhance education about these historical landmarks.

The first step of the digital model of the home is photographing the space, which is done in just one day. This process includes five laps of taking photographs of the home at different heights, accumulating more than 1,000 photos per room.

The photographing of the space included the entirety of the home’s exterior and parts of the interior.

The drone controller shows a view from the drone as it photographs the exterior of the Hempstead House. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

The interior was photographed with a handheld camera, whereas the exterior was shot with a drone camera.

In tandem with the photos of the spaces, the crew will also photograph individual elements of the rooms to capture the ornate details to then be digitized. This includes details down to the cracks and the coloring in the marble.

Once all the photos are taken, they then input them into a software program to translate the photos into a digital rendition.

But Barmak said you can’t just dump all the photos into the software and out comes a complete model.

Barmak compared it to a paint-by-numbers, with the software providing just the outlines of the painting. A person will then go in and fill those empty spaces to input the details of the space, utilizing artificial intelligence to fill in those pieces.

While the photographs capture the state of the home as it is presently, the digitized version can manipulate the space to satisfy different desires. This may be making a historically accurate rendition of what the home looked like at the time it was built, wiping away some of the historical aging.

At that point, the digital rendition is done. All that is left is adding the interactive elements of the virtual home.

Barmak said that in the construction of the historical building’s 3-D world, any element can be made interactive or “clickable” for the viewer to engage with the building’s history. This could include clicking on an element in a room to bring forward a pop-up with information about that element.

“The exciting thing is that there’s endless possibility,” Barmak said.

From the day of photographing to the day of completion, the process takes just shy of one month.

In tandem with the company’s focus on historical preservation, they also utilize the same technology to create three-dimensional worlds to be used as living backdrops for filming movie and television scenes.

These computer-generate backdrops can be manipulated to meet the desires of the director, changing the weather or angle, while also providing what looks like a live set behind the actors for them to be able to see and interact with during filming as well.

Green screens, on the other hand, involve superimposing pre-recorded video footage. Barmak said the issue with this method is that the pre-recorded footage cannot be changed after the fact. He said this has led to a movement in Hollywood to utilize the computer-generated living backdrops.

Sets that have utilized this new virtual backdrop include the recent Batman movie and the television series “The Mandalorian.”

While the Sands Point Preserve is aiming to utilize the virtual rendition of the Hempstead House for educational and preservation purposes, it will also give it the opportunity to sell the rights to use the home as a virtual set.

The home was photographed with no furniture in the rooms, which Bosgang said will aid in the digital set of the home as directors can use it as a blank canvas to then add their own furniture and set designs for the actors to interact with.

“While you want the bones of the structure, you have to be careful not to include too much,” Bosgang said.

Bosgang said the preserve already receives requests to film at the Hempstead House. Now the digital rendition can reach even further audiences by being utilized on sets that cannot be filmed in person at the house for various reasons.

“There’s endless potential here,” Barmak said.

Beyond providing educational opportunities and digital film sets, other ideas to utilize the digital rendition of the Hempstead House include digital wedding planning services to appease the strong demand for the home as a wedding venue.

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