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Gothic Cathedrals of Europe

With moving footage and photographs, users can study architectural details and compare different buildings with a dynamism unequalled in conventional media.
Gothic Cathedrals of Europe is the first title in Monumenta, a projected series of electronic publications which will explore Europe's architectural heritage. Producer Denise Vernerey turned to interactive multimedia to provide a new perspective on 35 of Europels great medieval cathedrals.Gothic Cathedrals of Europe is designed to provide both a user-friendly 'image book' and a scholarly resource. The power of interactivity provides unique access to a range of images which can be directly compared on the screen. Multimedia features will include, for example, the facility to compare details of different buildings, and an animated sequence illustrating the typical construction of a Gothic cathedral.


Gothic Cathedrals of Europe is a project clearly driven by specialists who understand the needs of a niche market. Project leader Dernise Vernerey of Kairos Vision was formerly a curator at the Louvre, where her involvement in the development of an interactive programme on the Parthenon convinced her of the value of multimedia.

Academic and financial support, as well as distribution services, are being provided by Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites, while Museu Nacional d'Arte Catalan is co-ordinating the academic contribution of six other 'scientific partners' who include scholars from the British Museum, Institut de France, Kunstinstitut (Munich), Musée National des Thermes de Cluny et du Moyen-Age, as well as architects from Milan and Cologne.

Such a large and wide-ranging partnership is rarely found in the mainstream of 'market-driven' multimedia projects. However, it is precisely this combination of expertise which promises to deliver a multimedia package which will be equally accessible and useful to academics and armchair travellers, scholars and school children, professional art historians and amateur art lovers. Distributors will accordingly include cathedral and museum shops, as well as established channels for consumer and educational publishing. As the programme itself was being developed, discussions were well advanced with electronic publishers including Bertelsmann, Dai Nippon Printing, Hachette, Philips and Voyager.


Despite the considerable enthusiasm of the consortium and its prospective publishing partners, conventional commercial interests have inevitably affected the development of the project. Like many other multimedia producers, Vernerey soon found that "the main problem is having to pay - and pay again" for images from photo libraries and archives, particularly when negotiating world rights.

Many content owners - alerted, perhaps, to the bright future predicted for multimedia by the popular press - have unrealistic expectations of the short-term returns which they might enjoy from contributing to a title such as this. Typically, Vernerey found that the cost of digitizing a single slide is 1000FF for publication in France alone, or 1500FF for worldwide publication - "lost money!" she says.

The solution for this as for many projects - is to take original footage shot to match the design and script of the programme. Apart from the obvious cost savings, Vernerey observes that this has given the title "a much more homogenous look".

It also means that direct comparisons can be made between specific features of different cathedrals. For example, precise shots taken from a common point in each building clearly illustrate comparable spatial dimensions, craftsmanship or decorative variations.

Within the interactive presentation, this will allow users to combine and compare visual information in a manner unparalleled in any other medium.


Owning content resources outright has another advantage in that it allows easy'reversioning' of a title for publication on different hardware platforms.

In this project, for example, Gothic Cathedrals of Europe will be published on CD-i, with 2000 still images and ten minutes of full- motion video. Subsequently,Gothic Cathedrals of England and France will be published on two CD-ROMs with up to 3 500 images; these will be both technically and culturally bilingual, with English and French soundtracks, for use with both IBM and compatible PCs, and Apple Macintosh computers. Images of individual cathedrals will be published as a series of Photo CD discs, using Kodak's Portfolio authoring software, to create interactive 'visits' - a much superior alternative to conventional slides and postcards.

A version for schools may also be produced, initially on CD-ROM, the most widely-available multimedia platform in the French educational market.


Describing the positive response to this concept from a wide and diverse range of interests, Denise Vernerey observes that there is no comparable databank in any medium on this topic. In more ways than one, Gothic Cathedrals of Europe will be unique in its field.

Thus, although much electronic publishing - particularly for consumer markets - currently inclines toward titles with mass appeal, there may be considerable potential in niche markets where interactive multimedia alone can offer a product that is genuinely new, different, interesting and valuable.




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