A_DA Joins Microsoft to Bring the Ancient Site of the Olympic Games to Life
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the ancient site of the birthplace of the Olympics and modern democracy, once stood 41-feet high. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the giant seated representation of the king of the Greek gods was decorated with ivory and gold. The towering figure made by the famed Greek sculptor Phidias was a sight to behold, but like many ancient monuments, The Statue of Zeus has long vanished from the site on which it once stood. Only the imagination and artistic renderings could transport visitors back in time. Until now.
Thanks to cutting-edge technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and Extended Reality (XR), visitors to the ancient site can now see the majestic statue and the historic site of the first Olympic Stadium as it once stood in all its glory. This month, Microsoft and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports unveiled “Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds,” a multi-sensory and immersive experience and exhibit that recreates ancient Olympia and allows visitors and audiences around the world to explore the site as it existed more than 2,000 years ago.
“The project to digitally preserve ancient Olympia is a stunning achievement in cultural heritage, bringing together humanity and cutting-edge technology to benefit the world and empower coming generations with new ways to explore our past,” said Brad Smith, president and vice-chair of Microsoft in a press release about the effort. “The blend of creativity, advanced technologies and modern storytelling really point the way to the future of innovative experiences, while bringing the past to life for a new generation.”
The large-scale experience seamlessly weaves together many complex digital and physical touchpoints, including an in-person exhibit at the Athens Olympic Museum that features an immersive tour leveraging Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, an interactive AR app, and a web-based platform. A_DA, a NYC-based experience innovation and design agency, oversaw the master plan for the project, the first of its kind for both Microsoft and Greece.
Part of Microsoft’s AI for Cultural Heritage initiative, the project digitally preserves 27 monuments on the site, including the original Olympic Stadium, the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the workshop of the renowned sculptor Phidias. Users can tour the site remotely via a website or in-person guided by an AR-enabled app as they walk through the ruins of Olympia. The experience allows visitors to explore five days of activity around the historic Olympic Games and contribute their thoughts about the games with audio and text. At the Athens Olympic Museum, they can use Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 headset to enhance the gallery experience. For example, when visitors are at the point of the exhibition featuring the Temple of Zeus, when they tilt up, they see the towering statue of Zeus, when they turn left, they can see inside the famed sculptor’s workshop. AI-enabled auto-translation brings the experience to users in more than 20 languages.
“The opportunity to not only help digitally preserve the site for everyone, but also to educate younger generations using mediums that are increasingly going to become the way they learn about our history in the future, was hugely exciting to us,” said Brett Volker, co-founder of A_DA. “The Ancient Olympics are such an incredible event in human history with foundational values that might be more relevant now than ever.”
A_DA’s executive creative director, Inessah Selditz added, “With the tremendous shifts that have occurred the last year and a half, cultural institutions are fundamentally re-thinking how they show up and connect with 21st century audiences. In turn, audiences are eager for more immersive, participatory and accessible experiences that are storytelling in ways they are excited to engage with. We are thrilled to launch this project at a time when a great re-imagining of experiences is happening across the globe.”
To create the digital experience, A_DA used a foundational model of ancient Olympia that was created from hundreds of thousands of images taken at the site. The images were then processed by Microsoft AI technology to painstakingly create photorealistic 3D renditions. The creative development and production of the project took 18 months to complete, with close collaboration required with the Hellenic Ministry’s archeological team to ensure historical accuracy.
The web experience can be viewed at olympiacommongrounds.gr and the app can be downloaded on the iOS and Android app stores.
The “Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds Exhibition,” featuring the HoloLens 2 virtual tour, is open to the public at the Athens Olympic Museum.
Agency: A_DA (Experiential masterplanning, concept, design, production)
Partner: Brett Volker
Executive Creative Director: Inessah Selditz
Creative Director, Senior Design Director: Tim Clark
Creative Director: Dave Hepp
Creative Director: Jasmin Jordy
Design Director: Shelly Mitchell
Designer: Yumi Nakamura
Designer: Tuan Quoc Pham
UX Designer: Yuqiao Qin
Creative Technologist: Rui Pereira
Video Director: Dael Oates
Scenic Designer: Bryce Cutler
Executive Producer: Media Ridha
Executive Producer: Danielle Mardesich
Executive Producer: Claire Jackson
Executive Producer: Sarah Ibrahim
Senior Creative Technical Producer: Christina Borins
Producer: Lucy Foster-Friesen
Associate Producer: Julie Hershman
Photogrammetry / 3D Model Creation: Iconem
HoloLens Developer: Glowbox
3D Model, Experience Animation: Invisible Thread
Senior Account Director: Sean Hanratty
Senior Program Director: Kristen Leung
A_DA is a contemporary agency that specializes in crafting boundary-breaking experiences with leading cultural institutions, creatives, and philosophically aligned brands and organizations across the technology, fashion, culture, and social impact spheres. Clients include Björk, Sol LeWitt, Microsoft, The Met, Nobel Foundation, Abbey Road, Childish Gambino, MASS MoCA, Smithsonian, Brian Eno, rag & bone, and more. For more details, visit a-da.co.