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Worlds collide: Design lecturer uses 3D tech to bring history to life

27 Apr 16

A Whitireia design lecturer is using 3D technology to commemorate her great-grandfather who was wounded in battle during World War One.

Alice Moore is using 3D printing technology to recreate a chess piece lost by ANZAC solider Harry Bourke while he was on the front lines.

Bourke carved the set while in the trenches of Passchendaele in 1917. The normal duration of this duty was two weeks, but for an unknown reason he and his fellow soldiers were not relieved for a month. The German attacks came mostly during the night, so the soldiers often faced long days looking for something to keep them occupied, according to his journal entries.

‘It turned out that we could all play chess,’ wrote Harry in his recollections of the war. ‘There was no hope of getting a chess set, so I had a go at carving one, with the help of a sharp pocket knife, and some willow wood growing nearby. We made a board out of a square of oil sheet and a bottle of ink, and we used to play in our spare time.’

Bourke and the chess set were separated when he was seriously wounded. However, they were reunited long after the war was over. His kit-bag was full of shrapnel holes and soaked in his own blood, but the chess set he kept inside the bag was intact, with the exception of one missing pawn.

The set has since been handed down through Bourke’s family, and now belongs to Moore’s generation.

“As children, we played with a fill-in piece from another set,” Moore says. “Recently I looked at the set and realised I could utilise my creative skills to make it whole once more.”

In 2012, she used 3D modelling programmes Maya and ZBrush to digitally recreate the basic shape and texture of the chess piece, before using a 3D printer at Victoria University to print it off. Last year, she returned to the piece with a desire to create a more accurate model, and recreated it using 3D scanners and a full colour CMYK ceramic 3D printer at Ink Digital in Wellington.

“The technologies that went into making the pieces in 1917 and the technologies that go into re-making them today could not be further apart. Where Harry created the pieces in trying conditions and out of limited resources - a stick of willow, a pocket knife and boot polish - I am utilising cutting edge technologies while sitting in the comfort of my living room,” she says.

Moore notes that the results have not been 100% accurate and is working on refining the piece before presenting the project at next year’s ‘The Myriad Faces of War: 1917 and its Legacy’ symposium in Wellington.

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