The Mont Saint-Michel: Digital perspectives on the model

Celebrating French art, history, and culture through mixed reality and artificial intelligence.

The Musée des Plans-Reliefs is bringing to life the historic Mont-Saint-Michel relief map—an example of the 17th century’s most advanced mapping technology—via a mixed reality experience that uses current mapping innovations to immerse viewers in a vital piece of French history and culture.

For centuries, technology has been influencing the way people engage with the world and shape the course of history. In 17th and 18th-century France, large-scale 3D maps—painstakingly built by hand down to the most intricate details—were the most advanced mapping technology of their time. They were considered such valuable strategic tools that leaders like Napoleon and King Louis XIV considered them military secrets and hid them from public view.

The Musee des Plans-Reliefs in Paris is home to more than 100 of these historic relief maps that  have withstood the test of time. But the crown jewel of the collection is the model of Mont-Saint-Michel—a rocky headland off the Normandy coast with a Benedictine abbey that’s an architectural marvel in its own right—presented by a monk to Louis XIV in 1701. A new HoloLens experience is bringing these technological feats, both the relief map and Mont-Saint-Michel itself, to life for a new generation.

The museum is partnering with Microsoft, HoloForge, and Iconem to create “The Mont Saint-Michel: Digital perspectives on the model,” a HoloLens experience celebrating French culture and innovation. The goal of the exhibit is to use mixed reality technology in a way that empowers the Musée des Plans-Reliefs to unlock a more vital kind of storytelling.

This exhibition is an important step in providing access to a new generation of people, while promoting a greater understanding of French history and culture around the world.

Brad Smith, President, Microsoft

By donning a HoloLens, guests are taken on a 15 to 20 minute experience where the Mont-Saint-Michel model comes to life.

They go on a compelling journey where they witness the rich history behind the model, explore specific points of interest, and are transported to the awe-inspiring Mont-Saint-Michel site as it stands today in Normandy. They’re able to see the origins and evolution of the site in a way that wasn’t possible before.

To adapt the story of this is incredible landmark for today’s digitally savvy audience, Microsoft partnered with the French companies HoloForge Interactive and Iconem. Iconem, which specializes in digitizing cultural heritage sites in 3D, recreated the Mont-Saint-Michel model and site using a process where algorithms process hundreds of thousands of photos—taken by drones and cameras on the ground—to render models that are so precise, they look fully photo-realistic.

HoloForge Interactive used these 3D renderings to travel back in time by using the HoloLens.

The main challenge in this project was to define the guidelines of a mixed reality tour guide. This is the beginning of a new era for cultural mediation, and we need to make it accessible to everyone: museums, mediators and visitors.

Antoine Bezborodko, Executive Producer, HoloForge Interactive (ASOBO Studio’s Holographic Computing Division)

Iconem founder Yves Ubelmann, whose grandfather was an architect who worked on restoring Mont-Saint-Michel, believes this kind of preservation is critical to helping future generations experience and connect with important pieces of our history and heritage. 

3D digital models will allow people to travel not only through space, but also in time, because they’ll effectively be able to walk through environments that no longer exist. Digital technologies today allow us to reconnect with these pieces of history

Yves Ubelmann, Co-founder and CEO, Iconem

Today, digital map-makers are picking up where their predecessors left off, filling in important gaps through artificial intelligence and mixed reality. Rather than technology being at odds with culture, it’s proving to be an essential tool in preserving and showcasing it for subsequent generations.

Through this partnership, Microsoft hopes to bring the important work of the Musée des Plans-Reliefs into the limelight while helping France promote tourism and preserve its varied history, building a bridge between past, present, and future. This exhibit is an important step in using digital technology to preserve heritage, empower museums, and make cultural experiences accessible to all.

Musee Des-Plans Relief Entrance

The Musée des Plans-Reliefs is a museum of military models located within the Hôtel des Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France.

Historical large scale 3D relief maps on display at the Musee Des Plans-Relief

But the crown jewel of the collection is the model of Mont-Saint-Michel—a rocky headland off the Normandy coast with a Benedictine abbey that’s an architectural marvel in its own right—presented by a monk to Louis XIV in 1701.

With sincerest thanks to our partners The Mont Saint-Michel: Digital perspectives on the model was on public exhibition at The Musée des Plans-Reliefs from October 2018 – February 2019 and will travel to Seattle, WA in late 2019.