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Xplored

The formula

Every time we have an opportunity to let our computers take a rest and weather is just fine we follow the same formula:

1. Look for another forgotten ruin, hillfort or a cave.

2. Set your gps to eliminate nasty surprises later.

3. Prepare some sandwiches, grab your camera, tripod and other essential equipment. In case of going to the cave - we highly advise to take a rope, helmet, headlamp and ...erm, a wetsuit if any underground stream is within your area of interest.

4. Put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the journey.

5.a. After reaching the target you can choose between taking photos like a mad or climbing like a mad to find the best place to take one. ...but first of all - chill out and remember that you have come there to recharge yourself.

5.b. For die-hard designers only: I didn't mention a laptop before, but I bet you can't breath with it, can you? Don't worry - if working outside the office doesn't distract you too much - there is nothing better than editing your new photos under some old oaks or even older limestone rocks.

6. Time seems to accelerate and it is unlikely that you will be able to see and touch everything before sun goes down. Want more? It's a good sign.

7. Do your research. Who built that castle you have just seen? Are there any engravings, etchings or modern reconstructions to show its splendour at the time before another siege turned it into the ruin? Are there any creepy legends able to make you scared? Let your imagination spread the wings.

The Idea

Having collected gigabytes of photos we decided to share them. Our goal was to show all these magic places in a way we see them - romantic, haunted and full of stories to tell.

First important milestone after laying an initial idea was acquiring a long-titled old book - 'Antiquarian and Topographical Cabinet, Containing A Series Of Elegant Views Of The Most Interesting 0bjects Of Curiosity In Great Britain, Accompanied with Letter-Press Descriptions' published by W. Clarke and J. Carpenter in 10 volumes, London, 1805-11.

This book contains hundreds of copper engraved plates and it had to be very serious investment in time (counted in years) for many people committed to travelling, drawing, engraving and printing. Imagine hiring an entire studio to prepare a book with over 500 illustrations - a visual record of ancient monuments of whole country.

No cameras, no computers, no tablets. Actually - no electricity at all and forget about cars too. Sounds like a madness or... a fortune to spend.

We were at least as much impressed by the quality of illustrations and their unique atmosphere as by amount of work undertaken to complete the book. Immediate decision to scan and use chosen engravings followed.

We started to develop the project, take more photos and look for another books and illustrations.

The Development

Charles Baudelaire once said on romanticism: '(it) is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.' During the development of the website we focused on such a 'way of feeling'.

We were very enthusiastic about using engravings but at the same time not very happy with scans resized to the screen resolution. 'No compromise' attitude evolved in adapting a module which we have used previously in one of our projects to achieve real-time zoom with no image size restrictions. In effect you can enjoy every engraved line on every illustration.

It wasn't too hard to show this particular 'way of feeling' with the help of 18 or 19th century engravings but we needed to keep in mind that we still have to deal with gigabytes of photos. And none of them was taken two centuries ago.

After selecting the best ones we started retouching. In most cases any 'modern' details have been removed. But it was still not enough. We started to play with colour but following any particular colour mood seemed to be a way to nowhere.

After a brainstorm we decided to develop another module allowing you to smoothly switch between 'color', 'sepia' and 'black&white' modes. No compromise again.

Finally, we have added a search engine and armed every set of photos with an experimental feature - map of location.

The Future

Xplored is about another major update which means a lot of old engravings within a few days. Among them there are ones from a book by William Stukeley (one of the founders of field archaeology and friend of Isaac Newton) and ones after J.M.W. Turner. A year after Xplored has been released we saved from death another book - 'A New Display Of The Beauties Of England...' printed in 1787, containing 180+ engravings.

The next phase involves using a helicam and a baloon to provide aerial photos and footages (together with interface improvements) but it is too early for any details as we are extremely busy and don't plan to start second phase within next few months. Of course you can expect new photos and illustrations at least bi-monthly.


About the Authors, Lucas Bul and Katarzyna Sadzikowska
Co-Founders, Massive Cube

Lucas Bul - co-founder and creative director at Massive Cube, has been working in digital media since 1999.

Katarzyna Sadzikowska - co-founder at Massive Cube, has been working in digital media since 2003.


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