Virtual tours are nothing new for museums. According to the History of Information, the first virtual tour was in 1994 when a walkthrough of England's Dudley Castle was created from a 3D reconstruction as the castle appeared in 1550. It was built with a laserdisc system designed by an English engineer. The rendition was marketed as a visitor interpretative tour, and it got enough press that even Queen Elizabeth II and a BBC crew who officially opened the visitor center.
Today, the technology has improved, and countless virtual tours highlight the world's finest museums and art galleries, including the Louvre, the American Museum of Natural History, and the British Museum.
The Louvre - The world's most visited museum features nine official virtual tours, with the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo being two of its most popular rooms.
The American Museum of Natural History - Of all the museums in the world, this one arguably has the worthiest collection of virtual experiences: interactive virtual field trips, online exhibits, and guided hall tours.
British Museum - This institution partnered with Google Arts and Culture to offer a virtual tour of the entire museum through Google Street View. The initiative was a great success, and it's still running today.
So, if history tells us anything, virtual tours can greatly benefit museums. It will help them bring the experience to life and reach more people from all over the world. But how exactly can a museum create a virtual tour? The following steps will serve as a roadmap to help you get started.
Step 1 - Be clear with your objectives.
Before creating a virtual tour, you must be clear with your goals. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to provide an immersive experience that educates and entertains visitors? Or are you looking to extend the museum's reach beyond its physical walls?
Clear-cutting your goals helps you figure out the best approach to creating a virtual tour.
Step 2 - Decide on your platform.
The next step is to decide where you'll present the tour. The right choice depends on the type of experience you hope to provide. You get to choose from different platforms, i.e., 3D modelling software and 360-degree video players.
For instance, if you aim to create a highly interactive tour with multiple points of interest, you'll benefit more from 3D modelling software. But if all you want is to provide visitors with a 360-degree view of your space, then video players are the way to go.
Step 3 - Weigh your visitors' needs.
What experience do your visitors want from you? Are they looking for an educational tour? Do they want to get a better understanding of the artworks on display? Or are they just looking for a way to have fun without leaving home? Knowing what your visitors need helps create a virtual tour that caters to their interests. It also allows you to create activities, quizzes, and challenges to make the experience more memorable.
Remember that every museum has its own niche, meaning the experience you create should be as unique as your space. It's not like you grab another museum's blueprint and copy it yourself. Every virtual tour must be a response to an apparent need.
Step 4 - Invest in good equipment.
To create an effective virtual tour, you must invest in good equipment. A range of cameras and sensors is necessary to capture the environment accurately. You'll also need to get powerful computers for rendering 3D models quickly. Quality audio equipment is essential for providing immersive sound experiences, such as 360-degree surround sound.
As you've realized by now, a virtual tour requires a considerable initial investment. This is the reason why not all museums can afford to create one. But if done properly, it can prove to be a cost-effective way to reach and engage with more people.
Step 5 - Start mapping out the journey.
Once you've established your goals, platform, and target audience, it's time to get the ball rolling. Start sketching out your vision for the tour. Map out each area you'd like to showcase and their points of interest, i.e., artifacts, artworks, interactive features.
Don't forget to consider special considerations, such as language, accessibility, and content. Cultural sensitivity is also important, especially if you want to create a global experience. Case in point: you should consider launching a virtual tour by offering it in multiple languages, depending on your target audience.
Step 6 - Begin designing the tour.
Now that you know what your visitors need and how you deliver it start designing the tour itself. This will involve creating 3D models or 360-degree videos of each area and its points of interest and writing content for each element. You'll likely have to design some software programers to help you bring your map to the screen.
If you already have existing designs and materials, you can use them on your tour. Otherwise, start from scratch and create everything yourself or outsource the job to a designer.
Step 7 - Put the pieces together.
Once you have all your designs and materials, start putting them together in a cohesive tour. This involves connecting the various elements to create an interactive journey that leads visitors from one point of interest to another.
If you're going with 3D modelling software, you can use it to build navigation tools, such as hot spots, pop-ups, and arrows. And if you opt for 360-degree video players, you can insert hotspots that provide links to other parts of the tour.
Step 8 - Get feedback and refine your tour.
At this point, it's time to get external feedback. Invite visitors to preview the tour and provide feedback on their experience. This is essential for refining the tour before launching it publicly. It also helps identify areas for improvement and create a better overall experience for your visitors.
Once you've gotten enough feedback, make the necessary changes and refine the tour accordingly. Keep refining your tour as you go along since it will help keep visitors engaged over time.
Step 9 - Promote your tour.
Finally, once the virtual tour is ready, launch it with a bang! Create an official page to promote the tour and keep visitors informed of updates. Also, don't be afraid to go the extra mile and host a launch event or other activities that engage people with your tour.
Creating a virtual tour is no easy task, but it's achievable with proper planning and execution. And once you get it up and running, you'll surely benefit from its educational and entertainment value.