Go on a virtual 3D tour of iconic Whistler spots 

If you missed The Chili Thom Experience in 2017, now is your chance to check it out

click to enlarge Take a 3D tour of the Train Wreck site from the comfort of your own home. - Photo by Alyssa Noel
  • Take a 3D tour of the Train Wreck site from the comfort of your own home. Photo by Alyssa Noel

Are you keen to experience a quintessential Whistler day?

Maybe you wake up, hike to Train Wreck, and check out some murals on the boxcars scattered around the area. Then how about a trip to the Audain Art Museum? While you're at it, you might as well hop across the street to the Maury Young Arts Centre, then walk a few minutes to check out the Whistler Museum.

Oh wait, there's that little matter of COVID-19 upending our lives, shuttering institutions, and forcing us all to stay home.

It's in the midst of this cabin fever that Francis Chiasson's 3D camera tours of all these iconic Whistler locations have taken on a new purpose: helping housebound locals escape to their favourite places for an afternoon.

"This is halfway between video and still photography," he says. "You can immerse yourself in the scene. Then you can move through it to the next spot, but you're not controlled by video; you can move it."

Chiasson's wife and son first told him about this new technology after they saw the Matterport 3D camera system at a real estate conference. He was immediately intrigued.

"Very often, they're cautious about putting stuff in front of me; I'm very critical of technology," he says with a laugh. "But I was like, 'This is really cool.'"

As an owner and a broker at RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate, he started using the technology to offer 3D tours of houses. "The camera has been quite a boon to our business, but on the side I've had a bit of fun with it," Chiasson says.

Three years ago, while touring The Chili Thom Experience—the community-wide tribute to the late artist and creative—he had an idea. What if he brought his camera into the Audain Art Museum to capture the soon-to-be wrapped-up show?

He contacted the museum, which pointed him to Arts Whistler, the organization that was hosting the celebration. "When I showed them what I did they said, 'You know we've got several other venues. Would you mind doing all of them?'" he recalls, laughing. "I can do a 2,000-sq.-ft. home in under three hours. I wasn't sure, in these big spaces, how long it would take me."

It turned out well. Chiasson walked through each space with the camera, stopping every 2.5 metres or so to snap a 360-degree image. The data transferred to an iPad before he uploaded it into a 3D model.

The Chili Thom Experience might start at the Audain Art Museum, but the resulting 3D experience allows you to jump to corresponding shows at the Maury Young Arts Centre, Whistler Museum, and Whistler Public Library.

Chiasson also linked certain paintings to the Chili Thom website for viewers to purchase prints, included videos screened at the exhibits, and named each piece.

"It went together very well," he says. "It was the first time I had done galleries or a large area like that. I was pretty excited to get that done. It was awesome to preserve it."

A bigger challenge he took on: capturing the Train Wreck hike and site last summer.

"The camera is designed for interiors," he says. "It's not too friendly outside—especially in the sunny weather. The camera uses an infrared beam to measure and in an open-air space with sunshine; it gets confused. But in the woods, I was shaded in most places so it worked out pretty well."

One of the most compelling parts of the virtual hike is actually going inside the boxcars to look at the murals. Like a museum's walls, the pieces are constantly changing so the camera captured a point in time.

"Preserving what was there was cool," Chiasson says. "I'd like to go back."

While he put links to his projects out through informal means in the last few years, they're now online as part of Arts Whistler's new COVID-19 culture resources called Arts Online!

"I thought it was time to put this out there again," he says. "Now that parks are closed, museums are closed, everything is closed ... it's my contribution to entertain people while they're sitting at home."

Check out all the tours here:

• Train Wreck http://rem.ax/trainwreck

• Chili Thom (Audain Art Museum) http://rem.ax/chili

• Chili Thom (Maury Young Art Gallery) http://rem.ax/chilimy

• Chili Thom (Mini Chilis, library) http://rem.ax/minichili

• Chili Thom (Collecting Chili – Whistler Museum and Archives) https://rem.ax/chilimuseum

• Whistler Museum and Archives (direct link to front door) http://rem.ax/whistlermuseum

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