We made great progress with Nathan Fairchild as our 2022 summer intern! He wrote a fantastic summary of his summer working with Eric Hanson on our Virtual Reality project. See below…

Dear ONWARD Project community,
I’m Nathan Fairchild, a graduate student at USC and a student of ONWARD’s VR Specialist and Developer Eric Hanson. This summer I had the privilege of working with ONWARD as an intern, and helping to further develop the organization’s virtual reality content. Here’s some of the work we completed and why I’m feeling excited about it!
The ONWARD Project in the public eye
My first task this summer was to move ONWARD’s virtual reality scenes and content onto a website called Nira for future accessible public viewing. While VR has seen increasing popularity over the last several years, the majority of people still don’t own a VR headset. Most people are therefore unable to view ONWARD’s beautiful virtual reconstructions of Northern Arizona, or the other content built by Eric. Nira is a platform that allows large 3D scenes along with embedded images to be viewed and interacted with inside of a simple web browser. Further, the computer processing required for Nira to render these scenes happens in the cloud — this means that someone does not need to have a highly-powered computer or a VR headset to view these amazing experiences. All one needs is a computer with Internet connection, a keyboard, and a mouse. Nira will be fully launching its services in the coming weeks, and we’re excited to enable members of the public very soon to see these representations and associated content in Northern Arizona simply by visiting a website. This will enable ONWARD’s most complex digital materials to reach a much wider audience.

The ONWARD Project shows off its collection
My second task this summer was using Eric’s 3D scanning resources to scan and digitally archive a variety of objects and historic documents (see below images) that ONWARD has been collecting for years through gifts from our descendants.  This included many of ONWARD’s manuscripts and documents regarding the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition. These will now be viewable in 3D to enable the viewer to pick up and examine as part of ONWARD’s film and VR content. 

ONWARD into the future
Lastly, I worked with Eric to lay the foundations for ONWARD’s new VR platform going forward. This meant reconstructing ONWARD’s VR content in state-of-the-art software called Unreal Engine 5. Unreal has been taking over the world of making films, games, and VR. It’s an amazing piece of software that represents the next decade of possibilities for how digital media can be created. Moving ONWARD’s VR experiences into Unreal Engine has been exciting, as it promises that ONWARD’s VR material will now be seen at higher fidelity and detail, with the additional ability to see these scenes in novel ways, such as ‘re-lighting’ scenes to be viewed as if it is daytime, or nighttime, or sunrise, or sunset. Most importantly, it places ONWARD’s VR material on an underlying infrastructure that is future-facing, and promises to keep these experiences on the cutting edge of what VR is capable of.
It’s been a huge honor and personal treat to be able to spend the summer working with such a passionate and dedicated team as Elizabeth, Eric, and Madi, and lending my hand to the beautiful and important work of ONWARD!