Ortelia’s innovative exhibition design software uses advanced 3D modelling technology to grant public cultural spaces a virtual presence.

Developed by a team of theatre, media and digital technology experts in collaboration with exhibition designers and curators, Ortelia provides an interactive digital design tool for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. The software’s advanced 2D and 3D modelling technology, real-time environment creation and backend web publisher development allows users to accurately design exhibitions in gallery spaces.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic sent gallery audiences online in their droves, some 90 cultural organisations had used Ortelia to design real-world and virtual exhibitions, allowing them to make significant cost savings and reach new audiences.

The research

The brainchild of Professor Joanne Tompkins from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Communication and Arts, a 3D visualisation approach was first used to investigate theatre spaces and set design in 2001. Professor Tompkins’s idea was developed with support from UniQuest, UQ’s commercialisation company, and with input from Dr Lazaros Kastanis, then at UQ’s Advanced Computation Modeling Centre. Dr Kastanis subsequently became CEO of Ortelia.

The original software initially focussed on the recreation of theatre spaces, but quickly expanded when the team behind Ortelia realised the commercial potential of using the technology to model gallery and museum environments, test exhibition design and provide a perpetual virtual exhibition archive that was readily available online.

Ortelia provides a true-to-scale, interactive 3D representation of a space, whether it be an art gallery, convention centre or entertainment venue. Ortelia’s technology maps spaces to create a virtual digital environment, similar to a video game world, except that it precisely replicates real exhibition spaces. It is so precise, it maps the placement of power points, light bulbs and even shadows.

Global interest, global impact

One of Ortelia’s most complex and successful interactive exhibitions was its hosting of the virtual Princess Diana Museum on behalf of The Princess & The Platypus foundation, based in
Los Angeles.

Accessible and affordable, visitors were able to view a remarkable collection of the late Princess Diana’s personal memorabilia, in two languages and from almost anywhere in the world. The realtime environment was augmented with a virtual, avatar-led tour, which took viewers through 14 galleries. Bringing together a lifetime of clothing, shoes and more, Ortelia’s interactive technology showcased more than 1700 iconic artifacts relating to Princess Diana, extending visitor reach beyond a traditional bricks-and-mortar gallery to a global audience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ortelia was instrumental in virtually recreating the Balzer Contemporary Edge Gallery at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the campus closed, students began converting their existing physical artworks and installations into high resolution digital images that were uploaded and ‘installed’ in the virtual gallery using Ortelia’s Curator software.

Based on the success of the virtual exhibition as a graduation component, Ortelia has since been incorporated into the curriculum as an educational tool at IAIA, and is used as a shining example of how new technologies can enhance traditional museum practices.

The path to commercialisation

Ortelia Pty Ltd is a start-up company established in 2009 by UQ’s commercialisation company, UniQuest. The development team included professionals who specialised in gaming technology, drama, real-time modeling and real-time content development, all with a profound knowledge of arts and cultural heritage.

Early software was developed with grant funding and in collaboration with local industry partners such as La Boite Theatre, The Powerhouse, and the UQ Art Museum and gave designers the opportunity to refine software prototypes in real life environments. Ortelia’s product suite focuses on its real time exhibition design tool Ortelia Curator, which drives efficiency gains in the exhibition design process by facilitating multiple scenario testing without the need to handle artworks. Together with advice and guidance from Ortelia’s experienced team, it helps clients create effective and tailored audience engagement applications.

Ortelia’s reputation in the marketplace indicates a positive trajectory. Its groundbreaking work has attracted the attention of galleries around the world and has led to significant collaborations over the past four years, and even more so in the locked down world of the coronavirus pandemic. Ortelia has formed strategic global partnerships with key CMS companies to extend its audience reach and position Ortelia Curator as an industry standard tool.

Professor Tompkins continues to be a driving force in the start-up company, and in her academic career uses Ortelia to recreate historical theatres that no longer exist. From these models she is able to investigate not only the history of theatre architecture but also the stage machinery and performance techniques that venues such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre may have used. Her book on these venues is due to be published in 2021. Professor Tompkins’ models will be available in an open-access format so researchers and students around the world may ‘return’ to them time and time again, with the simple click of a mouse.

UQ’s Professor Joanne Tompkins

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Social and Behavioural Sciences



Professor Joanne Tompkins
UQ Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences



Interactive 3D software to model virtual theatre and gallery spaces


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