Old Edinburgh Reborn

By: Dr Robert Sproul-Cran, Jean Guild Grant awardee

St Giles & Parliament Square
St Giles & Parliament Square © Old Edinburgh Reborn

Creating virtual photographs of Edinburgh in the 1700s

Introducing ‘Old Edinburgh Reborn’

Photography came to Edinburgh in the early 1840s and the city has been meticulously documented through paintings, prints, maps and plans for centuries before. A new project, Old Edinburgh Reborn, takes cutting-edge techniques of 3D modelling and CGI (Computer Generated Imaging) to build virtual models based accurately on historical documentation, and then use a virtual camera to photograph them. Once the model is built, weather and lighting can be changed. Figures are added and views once familiar can be retrieved from the mists of history and brought to life once more. The project is bring developed by Dr Robert Sproul-Cran of Northlight Productions, and is benefitting from a Jean Guild Grant from the Old Edinburgh Club.

Parliament Square

Parliament Square close up © Old Edinburgh Reborn
Parliament Square © Old Edinburgh Reborn

Robert started modelling Parliament Square as a proof of concept for a proposed feature film of ‘The Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg. The results he obtained drew him further into researching the astonishing ‘lost’ building of the old Scottish Parliament, hidden behind the early 1800s Robert Reid classical facade.

The old building of the Scottish Parliament, 1640

Parliament House with Coach 18th century

Edinburgh has many secrets that lie hidden still to be uncovered. Much of this is beyond the reach of Edinburgh residents and visitors alike. There is only one illustration of the old Parliament in session – the 1720 Atlas Historique of Nicolas de Gueudeville – yet there is not one to be seen within Parliament Hall itself. Lord Cullen’s booklet on the history of the building is an excellent resource, but currently there are no interpretive visualisations available showing what the Hall looked like at that time.

Robert’s research allowed him to track down salvaged stonework from the old Parliament as far afield as Arniston House outside Edinburgh and Abbotsford in the Borders. “It pays to take contemporary drawings and paintings with a pinch of salt. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, can create plausible ultra-realistic images – but they are historically inaccurate. It’s important to do the research to track down what Edinburgh really looked like.”

Robert has been granted privileged access to the building by Jennie Findlay, Head of Library and Archive Services at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. She has been extremely helpful in alerting him to relevant documents and plans, and suggesting further potential resources. James Hamilton, Research Principal at the WS Society at the Signet Library has also assisted. Lord Cullen continues to be a generous source of knowledge and advice.

Old Edinburgh Reborn was awarded a grant from the Old Edinburgh Club’s Jean Guild Grants programme to support his research work and the 3D modelling process. The grant has allowed the painstaking work to pick up momentum.

About Dr Robert Sproul-Cran

Robert is a broadcaster, writer and artist. He joined the BBC as a radio newsreader and announcer, then moved into production and management. After ten years working across Scotland and the London networks he joined television as the BBC’s Scottish daytime feature presenter.

After two years on air, he left to launch indy producer Northlight. There he produced and directed for the BBC, C4 and Discovery. ‘In Search of the Tartan Turban’ for Channel 4 won him a BAFTA. His short film, ‘The Elemental’ was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and represented Britain in international competition. As CEO of Tartan TV, he directed and co-presented over a hundred shows promoting Scotland in North America. He writes novels under the pen name of Zane Stumpo. Another of his ventures is a youth TV station in the Scottish Borders, ‘Voice Of My Own’ (VOMO) to pass his expertise to a new generation.

Robert has created a website and blog to showcase Old Edinburgh Reborn, and an exhibition and book might be on the cards for the future. In the meantime, it’s possible to follow the detective work online as each new insight is revealed.

Old Edinburgh Reborn is at old-edinburgh.com. You can subscribe to receive notifications when each new blog post is created.

You can also follow Robert’s exciting project on the OEC website, Facebook, Instagram and X (Twitter).

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