Antwerp is the historic heart of Flanders in Northern Belgium and famous as the birthplace of two Old Masters, Rubens and Van Dyck. Today, two young masters are dedicating themselves to what they consider a "new form of art" - capturing the beauty of the city's architecture with detailed 3D models via Google Earth. Instead of layering oil paint on stretched canvases, they are using digital photographs and Google SketchUp. Nick, or SittingDuck (his Google 3D Warehouse handle) started modeling for Google Earth after seeing the amazing models created by KR= (Chris) of some of Antwerp's landmark buildings.
"I got really excited when I saw the models that Chris had done in Antwerp," Nick said. "The truth is, I was supposed to be studying for my college exams, but found modeling to be a lot more fun. Ha, it's funny that the first model I made was purely to procrastinate on cramming for my exams. Since then, it's turned into a kind of obsession. My approach to modeling has changed over time too. At first, I was putting up models as fast as I could make them, but in part because Chris' models were so carefully done, I put in more time and attention."
Nick and Chris have completed a good deal of the historic center of the Antwerp. Chris' spectacular model of the main Cathedral of Our Lady is a focal point for this area.
The Cathedral of our Lady was under construction for more than 170 years so the fact that it took Chris more than six months to photograph and model the cathedral for Google Earth may not seem like too much time. But, Chris' beautiful work speaks for itself. The cathedral is now recognized as part of the World Heritage Site and the model certainly does it justice.
Even with less majestic subject matter, the quality of the work done by Chris and Nick is remarkable. "So much depends on the photographs you take of the building facades," Nick continued. "Antwerp is tricky, the town has grown organically from the center for over a 1,000 years and it's filled with irregular narrow streets and alleys where you can often only stand about 5 meters away from the facade you want to photograph. So I'll shoot multiple pictures of the building and stitch them together with PTgui. You always want to be sure to catch the buildings in strong natural light. I will also do some color adjustments in Photoshop, but strong light is key. It's what makes the models come to life."
While Nick feels like the process of modeling is a reward unto itself, both he and Chris were recognized by the Gazet van Antwerpen for the work they are doing. Going forward, they've set a goal of modeling all of Antwerp from the city center outward. They are being guided by the historical perimeter of the city which can still be seen with Google Earth satellite imagery.
"We now have about 30% of the buildings completed that existed inside the 16th century city walls. Some other guys are modeling too. I usually will plan out which area I am doing next, take the bus into the city and set to work taking my photos. I have to say I am also indebted to Magda, my fiance, who rides her bike around town to take pictures for me as well. Depending on the building, I usually will take between 5 and 7 hours per model, it all just depends on what the actual structure is. It is going to take us about a year to finish up and then we will move on to the city limits in the 19th Century."
In the mean time, Nick has completed 100% of a smaller town in Belgium, Fort Lillo.
"It's hard to say exactly why we are doing this. But in part, I have always been into maps, geography and architecture. The process of map making has been very special and challenging, but people really have mapped almost all the world now. Google Earth and 3D are an new extension of that process. A friend once asked my why I spent all this time modeling. I thought, 'why do painters paint, why did the map makers make maps?' This is a combination of both. It's an art form. Chris's modeling work really rises to this level. It's like photorealistic painting in 3D."