Illuminating new technique outshines the competition

July 27, 2001

The first Bristol University Enterprise Centre Business Plan Competition prize has been awarded to a modelling technique that allows objects on a computer screen to be lit by authentic illumination such as a flame.

ArcLight, a high-fidelity computer technique, has been pioneered by Alan Chalmers, senior lecturer in computer science at Bristol University, working with Duncan Brown, of Southampton City Heritage Services. They received the Enterprise Centre's £25,000 prize.

"ArcLight grew out of my on-going research into computer modelling of light and colour," Dr Chalmers said. "Duncan Brown approached me wanting to know why medieval pottery was so brightly coloured and the only way to find out was by putting it in its original environment.

"What ArcLight does is create, via a series of software-based packages, authentic illumination, especially flamelit environments, so you can see how an object interacts with the light and is modelled by it."

Not only should ArcLight make it possible for heritage sites to build more accurate models of how our ancestors lived and worked, but it has clear applications for computer game companies. They will be able to make their graphics even more lifelike, for example by placing Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider game in tombs that can be authentically lit with light from burning rushes, candles and braziers.

Neil Bradshaw, whose Enterprise Centre raised funds for the competition, said the challenge was open to students and staff and added that it was "part of the university's aim to develop a culture of entrepreneurship and enterprise".

Competitions such as this are much more common in the United States. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology prize is now in its 13th year.

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