Digital Process: The Story of the Cleveland Krishna

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Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain

Meaningful innovation initiates relationships with artwork in Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain, on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art from November 14, 2021, through January 30, 2022. Though the CMA has a long history of using digital tool sets to spark relationships with art, this is the first time the museum has created immersive experiences in a special exhibition. Through two sculptural and four digital galleries, Revealing Krishna transports visitors to the dramatic floodplains of southern Cambodia and tells the life story of the CMA’s monumental sculpture Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan, spanning 1,500 years and three continents. The exhibition unveils the newly restored Krishna alongside related sculptures in an integration of art, technology, and experiential design. Watch the “Visions and Revisions” talk for more behind-the-scenes content. 

How was it made?

four panels of concept drawings for Krishna
Early concepting drawings for each of the four digital experiences. Image: Dome

Journey to Phnom Da

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The introductory hall of the exhibition reenacts the pilgrimage from Angkor Borei to Phnom Da. Three projection walls provide stunning views of the canals leading to Phnom Da and an immersive cinematic and audio landscape. This journey along the Mekong River delta allows visitors to experience how pilgrims traveled to Phnom Da as they prepare to meet the sculptures from this sacred two-peaked mountain.

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Konstanty Kulik of the Farm 51 (left) and Katie Lee of Dome reviewing drone footage in Cambodia (left). The CMA creative team, Dome, and the Farm 51 working on location at Angkor Borei in 2019 (right)

Footage and sound for “Journey” was captured on-site in Cambodia in 2019. Filmed with a three-camera rig and drone, views of the canal traveling toward the two-peaked mountain show the varying landscapes. In the gallery, five Panasonic projectors project the three-camera rig and drone footage onto three 22-foot-long walls, while a series of speakers bring the sounds of the Cambodian canals to Cleveland. The team perfected this interactive through a series of prototypes at the museum in 2020 and 2021.

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The CMA team working on prototypes of the “Journey” in July 2021 

HoloLens Experience: The Story of the Cleveland Krishna

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Visitors are introduced to the world of Phnom Da and immersed in the global story of Cleveland’s Krishna through a mixed-reality experience. The voice of Krishna guides visitors through an augmented-reality landscape that blends photorealistic virtual 3-D models of locations and sculptures with ethereal motifs from the Krishna myth. This tour is guided through each visitor’s Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset, providing surround sound and situating the virtual experience as if users are in the physical environment itself. Visitors follow the journey of Krishna from Cambodia to Europe and Cleveland, concluding with its digital restoration and reinstatement in the original cave temple on Phnom Da. Through participating in the experience, visitors can understand all the factors across time and place that impacted the way Krishna looks today before traveling to the next gallery to see the sculpture itself, on display for the first time since its recent reconstruction.

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The CMA team working on prototypes of the “Journey” in July 2021 

Groups of six visitors begin the 11-minute HoloLens tour every two minutes, moving through six stations around the gallery, allowing for up to 36 simultaneous participants. This is the first time that a HoloLens 2 experience “on rails” has been attempted in a museum context. This would not be possible without the generous support and expertise of Microsoft and the brilliant work of our partners at the Interactive Commons at Case Western Reserve University, whose tireless work on development over the past two years brought the story of the Cleveland Krishna to life.

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CMA and Interactive Commons team members work on details of the HoloLens experience at the Interactive Commons

Content for the HoloLens experience was captured on-site at Phnom Da and in conservation labs in Phnom Penh and Cleveland. Scans of both the Cleveland and Phnom Penh Krishnas, as well as each individual fragment, allowed the teams to illustrate the complicated conservation story in 3-D space. An artist’s reconstruction of how the Cleveland Krishna may have originally looked, before fragmentation and weathering, was created using the existing models of the sculptures, with input from curators and conservators. A high-resolution scan of the interior and exterior of Cave D at Phnom Da, where scholars believe the Cleveland Krishna originally stood, allows visitors to walk around this reconstruction in situ, accompanied by ambient sound recorded on-site.

a man operating a camera in a cave
The creative team captured 3-D models and photography of Phnom Da from above and of Cave D, where scholars believe the Cleveland Krishna originally stood.

(Visitors must be 12 or older to participate in the HoloLens portion of the exhibition; see FAQ on the Revealing Krishna exhibition page.)

Gods of Phnom Da

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The eight monumental sculptures of Phnom Da are reunited digitally through interactive, motion-activated projections, with detailed views of each god’s unique iconography. This gallery shows intimate, never-before-seen views of these ancient sculptures through breathtaking animations of high-resolution 3-D models, projected at life size. The arrangement of the projections mirrors the way visitors to Phnom Da would have experienced the gods, who have not been on view together in more than 1,000 years.

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The team working in the galleries of the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh to capture photogrammetry of each sculpture

The 3-D models of the eight gods were captured using LiDAR and photogrammetry on-site in museums in Phnom Penh, Paris, and Cleveland. The models were then lit and animated to create the interactives in the exhibition. Eight projectors display motion-activated animations of the gods of Phnom Da on 12-foot-tall scrims. Visitors step into an illuminated activation zone to explore iconography, which is displayed in five unique animations for each god.

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The CMA team created a small-scale prototype of the “Gods” experience in spring 2021 to test the interactive’s software (left). Reviewing a full-scale “Gods” prototype in June 2021 (right)

Global Journeys: Immersive Timeline

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The exhibition culminates with an immersive timeline narrated by director, actor, and humanitarian Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung (best-selling author of First They Killed My Father) sharing the story of the gods of Phnom Da and their origins, discovery, and conservation as fragments reunited across time and place. Formatted as a panoramic horizon, eight screens are aligned horizontally to create an L-shaped configuration in the corner of the exhibition’s final gallery. Visitors see archival images of excavations, from the earliest discoveries in the 1800s to the present, as well as present-day footage and animated maps illustrating the incredible story arc of these ancient sculptures. The last decade of conservation innovation, exchange, and partnership with Cambodia concludes this film and highlights the museum’s evolving role in stewardship within the global landscape.

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Curator Sonya Rhie Mace (left) and author Loung Ung (right) in the studio recording narration for the immersive timeline. Angelina Jolie recorded her portion of the narration in Los Angeles.

Digital Team and Partners

Creating Revealing Krishna has been an exceptional collaborative effort. Nearly every CMA staff member has shaped this exhibition in some way. Listed here are the project leads responsible for creating the exhibition’s digital components. The four digital elements of Revealing Krishna were created by a cross-departmental team, led by Jane Alexander, chief digital information officer (digital lead), in close collaboration with Sonya Rhie Mace, George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art (curator), and Andrew Gutierrez, director of design and architecture (exhibition designer). Throughout the process, it was important that the technology, scholarship, and design of the exhibition space function together in order for the digital elements to be successful. This team worked closely with the exhibition and interpretation staff and others across the museum, while seeking outside expertise to support those efforts, partnering with talented firms for the UX design and 3-D modeling. The success of the digital elements is also thanks to the support of William Griswold, director and president of the museum, without whose support this project would not be possible.

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The Interactive Commons and CMA teams at an on-site prototype in spring 2021

Every detail of this exhibition is significant. The individuals—too numerous to list—who have supported the digital elements through testing, promotion, visitor experience, building operations, and more have all been critical to the success of this project. These elements came to fruition thanks to the diligence of interdepartmental teams across the CMA, working through a global pandemic to create transformative digital experiences.

The project team for the creation of the digital elements of Revealing Krishna includes a range of contributors.

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The CMA team working on prototypes of the “Journey” experience in March 2020

From the Cleveland Museum of Art

Digital Innovation and Technology Services: Jane Alexander (Chief Digital Information Officer), Anna Faxon (Digital Project Manager), Haley Kedziora (Digital Project Manager), Jeff Judge (Director of Media Services and AV Integration), Ethan Holda (Director of Technology), Allison Kennedy (Director of Support Services), Noah Anderson (Interactive and User Support Technician), Anurag Saxena (Lead Developer), Tom Hood (Director of Technology Operations), Maddie Armitage (Initial Project Manager), Michael Dreiling (Initial Developer), Caitie Robins (User Support Technician), Jeremy Fischer (User Support Technician), Erahlea Haidet (Media Services and AV Technician), and Andrea Bour (Collection Information Data Analyst).

Curatorial, Conservation, and Collections Management: Sonya Rhie Mace (George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art), Heather Lemonedes Brown (Virginia N. and Randall J. Barbato Deputy Director and Chief Curator), Beth Edelstein (Objects Conservator), Colleen Snyder (Associate Conservator of Objects), Amaris Sturm (Former Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Conservation), Sarah Scaturro (Eric and Jane Nord Chief Conservator), Elizabeth Saluk (Registrar for Exhibitions and Rights and Reproductions), and Mary Suzor (Former Director of Collections Management)

Design: Andrew Gutierrez (Director of Design and Architecture) and Natalie Maitland (Graphic Designer)

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The CMA team working on prototypes of the "Gods" experience in March 2020

Interpretation: Jennifer DePrizio (Chief Learning Officer)

Exhibitions and Publications: Mollie Armstrong (Exhibition Project Manager), Heidi Strean (Chief Exhibition, Design, and Publications Officer), Emily Mears (Director of Exhibitions), Tom Barnard (Director of Publications), and Rachel Beamer (Publications Project Manager)

Visitor and Protection Services: Lisa Codispoti (Chief Operating and People Officer), Jessica Whittaker (Director of Visitor Services), Jaime Juarez (Director of Protection Services and Safety), and Jeff Cahill (Security Manager)

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Testing an early version of the HoloLens experience in May 2021

External Partners

Dome: Katie Lee and Lynn Kiang (Digital Media Strategy, Creative Direction, UX/UI Design and Production)

Zenith Systems: Doug Fortney, Dominique Boaeuf, Jeremy Weatherford, and Rick Brenneman (AV Planning and Installation: Journey, Gods, Immersive Timeline)

DLR Group: Raymond Kent and Jim Krumhansl (Sound Design and Production: Journey to Phnom Da, HoloLens Experience, Immersive Timeline)

The Farm 51: Konstanty Kulik, Michał Mierzejewski, and David Korzan (Photography and 3-D Models)

True Edge Archive: Dale Utt (3-D Art, Animation: Gods of Phnom Da, Artist’s Rendering, Krishna)

Sears think[box]: Ainsley Buckner, Ian Charnas, Joel Hauerwas, Marcus Brathwaite, and Benjamin Guengerich 

In Cambodia: KHIN Pothai, CHUM Sokvong, DEAB Sarith, DEAN Chomreuon, KIM Vimalay, LY Polin, H. E. PRIM San, SENG Sopharab, and SRUITUE Patcharakiti (Local Fixer, Cambodian Crew); Nicolas Josso, National Museum of Cambodia and École française d’Extrême-Orient

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts: H.E. PHOEURNG Sackona, PRAK Sonnara, and OUK Sokha 

National Museum of Cambodia: KONG Vireak (Initial Director), CHHAY Visoth (Director), MUONG Chanraksmey, SOK Soda, CHEA Socheat, and KHUN Sathal 

Angkor Borei Museum: CHEA Sambath 

US Embassy in Phnom Penh: Ambassador Patrick Murphy, Former Ambassador William Heidt, Arend Zwartjes, Lisa Larson, and NORN Soreimeas 

École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO): Bertrand Porte, Christophe Pottier, Charlotte Schmid, and Isabelle Poujol 

Musée national des arts asiatiques–Guimet: Pierre Baptiste, Dominique Reninger, and Adil Boulghallat 

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The creative team on location in Phnom Da, including team members from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Dome, and the Farm 51

Official Technology Partner: Microsoft

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“The Story of the Cleveland Krishna” HoloLens Experience Credits

This experience was developed in collaboration with the mixed-reality development partner the Interactive Commons at Case Western Reserve University. The HoloLens experience was also developed with the collaboration and support of Microsoft, the official technology partner of Revealing Krishna.

The Interactive Commons: Mark Griswold (Faculty Director, The Interactive Commons), Erin Henninger (Executive Director, The Interactive Commons), Henry Eastman (Developer), James Gasparatos (Project Manager), and Peter Gao (Developer)

Redfitz: Nick Fitzhugh (Script Writing)

Prime Access Consulting: Sina Bahram and Corey Timpson (Accessibility Consulting) 

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Emi recording narration for "The Story of the Cleveland Krishna" HoloLens experience in Siem Reap

Talent Credits

  • Voice of Krishna: SOAN Pheary (Emi)
  • Voice of Auctioneer: Graham Rhodes
  • Voice of Paul Mallon: Jeremy Cleron
  • Voice of Sherman Lee: Tom Welsh
  • Introductory Narrator: Sonya Rhie Mace
  • Featuring the music of Arn Chorn-Pond