_TECHNOLOGY Digital Media

_Virtual Salvage Project

Though there have been efforts to revive the rusting remains of the SS United States luxury liner as a hotel or casino, it is unlikely that the public will ever again tour its interior — until now.

_Glen Muschio

Muschio is an associate professor of digital media in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

During her heyday in the ’50s and ’60s, the giant passenger ship SS United States was the pinnacle of luxury ocean travel — setting records for top transatlantic crossing speed.

The 990-foot, seven-story nautical titan was decommissioned in 1969 and eventually came to rest in 1996 at Pier 82 in South Philadelphia, where its hull has been slowly rusting ever since.

But thanks to a team of Drexel digital media students — Zach Stockmal, Justin Wu, Tom Welker, Chris Elliott, John Novak, James Maguire and Jessie Wu — and their advisor, Westphal Associate Professor Glen Muschio, anyone can now tour the ship digitally in its original glory. They’ve produced an interactive, three-dimensional digital model of the icon.


The tour is available as a free download in the Apple store.

For guidance, the group used historical reference material including an original floor plan provided by the SS United States Conservancy, the group that maintains the ship, and online resources including old photos, videos and postcards.

The biggest challenge lay in recreating the environment onboard, especially interior lighting.

“The promenade and outer rooms had natural light through the windows, but you couldn’t really tell from the pictures how the light got to an interior room like the Navajo Lounge, and that affects the shadows, the colors and textures of the paintings, everything,” says Stockmal.

To answer this question, the group got a rare opportunity to spend two hours on the promenade deck.

They then plugged their models into a game engine to create a lifelike virtual experience. The tour features a dozen stops including the Navajo Lounge, the observation lounge, the promenade, the first-class smoking lounge and two of the ship’s theaters.