A Virtual Reality Application: Creating an Alternative Immersive Experience for Dunhuang Mogao Cave Visitors

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2023

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Abstract

As the largest cave of Buddhist art with thousands of murals spanning ten dynasties, the Dunhuang Mogao cave has been described as a “peerless cave” because of its fabulous frescos and handcrafted delicate sculptures. However, tourism and in-cave human activities had damaged the frescos; only a few caves are now open with limited accessibility for global visitors and the public. In addition, Dunhuang Cave authorities set strict rules to exclude some people, such as people in wheelchairs, to protect the murals and sculptures from possible damage. This thesis project aims to address this problem by modeling how digital environments might provide universal access to the cave by marginalized and excluded groups. The thesis project includes two separate digital sections: a Unity VR (Virtual Reality) immersive experience and a web-based Story Map with a three-dimensional view of selected murals. The thesis project not only provides an immersive experience for worldwide visitors but also unlocks the door for the possibilities of preserving cultural heritage by using innovative digital methods. Through the use of Maya and Steam, the Unity game engine can be used to curate a virtual space by placing the audience into well-textured 3D cave models, while the web-based story map can be used to contextualize basic background knowledge and provides a comprehensive text explanation of the Silk Road and Buddhist culture to inform the user’s understanding of what they are seeing. Overall, this thesis demonstrates endeavors to discover more possibilities and opportunities for historical and cultural heritage protection while not losing access.

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Zhao, Xinqian (2023). A Virtual Reality Application: Creating an Alternative Immersive Experience for Dunhuang Mogao Cave Visitors. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27782.

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