Pompeii Project

Project Problem Statement

The researchers and archeologists of the CRC Pompeii site need to see the garden with period-accurate plants in it because they are trying to learn how people who lived and visited there used that space and spent their time.


Low poly draft olive tree back view


Olive tree next to a 5.5’ tall “person” for scale - it will need to be made taller in later iterations.


Fully textured olive leaf - still has some specular in it from the photograph used that is undesired in the final draft


Archeological evidence shows that the people of ancient Pompeii heavily pruned and maintained their gardens in order to achieve a unique aesthetic, meaning that the plants in their gardens looked very different from the natural habit of those plants or the ways that we usually see them in the present day. Therefore, existing 3D models of plants aren’t the correct shape or scale to represent the ones that were in gardens like the one at Casa della Regina Carolina in Pompeii. The goal of this project is to build plant models more accurate to the plants that would have been seen in the ancient gardens of Pompeii in order to help increase understanding of how these gardens were used by their owners and visitors. By placing these models in a 3D model, researchers can get a better understanding of what it would have been like to walk around or sit in the gardens. Some questions to be answered include how shady or windy the gardens were, how much time people spent in them, and whether the plants were used for produce or just decoration. I connected with this project because I had just done a lot of work with 3D modeling over the summer, and because of how artistic and human-centered it is. It’s fascinating to me to think about how real people walked through these gardens and made decisions about how to design this space thousands of years ago. I often think of computer graphics as associated with entertainment so it’s also really enjoyable to be able to apply it to an academic field that I wouldn’t have thought of using it for before this semester.


The researchers and archeologists of the CRC Pompeii site need to see the garden with period-accurate plants in it because they are trying to learn how people who lived and visited there used that space and spent their time.


Susan Garry is a senior computer science student working on the project with me. She began working on the models for the plants last year and developed a few prototype models as well as a general outline of steps to take to construct the models and design guidelines for the project. We have been working together to do research on the plants, continue building models, and think about the next steps for this project. Professor Kathryn Gleason is a professor of landscape architecture, and she has been advising us in weekly meetings by being a resource to answer questions about what is currently known about Roman plants and gardening techniques. She has done research on several gardens and garden paintings at various Pompeii sites and she is also our point of contact to talk to architecture students and people who have worked on this project in the past. Dr. Caitlín Barrett is a professor of classics who is also leading the overall CRC Pompeii project and she is also helping with research and resources, especially concerning data and information from the past digs.


First, I hope to create fully-formed models complete with textures for the olive tree and at least one other plant that we find pollen evidence for at the CRC garden. These models then need to be combined with the Rhino model built from LiDAR scans of the garden and molded to fit into the root cavities found at the dig. This involves making decisions about which cavities were formed by which species of plants. Then, the plants need to be sculpted and adjusted to fit around each other within the environment in a way that the Romans would likely have pruned them. This could involve many different variables, like sight lines from walking paths or benches, light levels for ripening fruits, and the trends and aesthetics of the time. This step will be especially difficult if we choose to work on grapevines or other vines, as those need to be molded around structures in the garden. We also hope to present at the CURB spring symposium and possibly another conference to get feedback from other people working in similar fields. Some further reaching goals are to make the garden walkable in VR by putting the models in Unity in order to get a real feel for scale and sightlines, and also to make the plant models available to other people trying to model other similar gardens from the same time and area.


One of the main things that we need to do is research the plants we are modeling. We are in contact with a former landscape architecture student who advised us to find botanical art of the plants from older books, so we need to speak with Cornell librarians to try to find some books that may have illustrations of the plants we are trying to model. We are also gathering reference pictures of depictions of these plants from Pompeii and Ancient Rome, like the garden paintings and other art. We also plan to get in contact with people at the botanical gardens in order to find plant experts who can tell us more about the growth habits of different plants or point us to more resources to study their branching, rooting, and leaf structures. It would also be really helpful if they could point us to someone who has living specimens of the species we are modeling so that we can get photographs for reference and for texturing the leaves and branches of the plants. Throughout the project, we plan to meet with Professor Gleason weekly and Professor Barrett monthly in order to get feedback on our designs. We also need to do research on different 3D modeling platforms and how to move files between them, because we currently have plans to use Maya, Rhino, and Unity. We need to be able to successfully share and transfer files between platforms and between different people which may be difficult.



  • Erika Katsumoto