Cultural Heritage and 3D: The Power of Virtual Things

Alec Ward, Museum Development Officer Digital & Communications at London Museum Development, tells us about the popular 3D digital models course as part of their Digital Futures training programme, and the potential this technology can bring.

As part of London Museum Development’s Arts Council England funded training offer to London’s non-national museums, we run a programme of digital training courses. The Digital Futures training programme covers a variety of different topics, from social media use to creating videos. One of our most popular courses, currently delivered by Thomas Flynn, is a practical course on how you can create 3D digital models of museum objects.

In a physical setting, museums let people get close to history. To see history with their own eyes. Seeing an object in real life can be a powerful thing. Museum professionals often try to achieve that online – through photographs of objects. But, in general, they don’t have the same impact. So how do museums try to replicate or recreate that experience?

Digital 3D models are one of a few potential answers. They can fill that gap between the real and non-material. They’re not quite objects, but they’re far more than just photographs. Look at The Royal Armoury’s 3D model of a helmet, for instance.

An image of the helmet would be great. But a 3D model adds more layers. More character. More detail. You can zoom in, and see all of the intricacies of the piece. You can move it around and see how it catches the light. It’s interactive – far more so than most objects within a museum setting.

Creating models like this is surprisingly in-expensive. The Royal Armoury actually released a video showing you how they did it. They used a method called Photogrammetry, which is the process we teach in our training sessions

The basic principle is simple. You take a number of photographs of an object, from 360 degrees and from at least 3 levels (below, middle, above). You then take those photographs and run them through a programme, such as Agisoft PhotoScan.

The programme renders the images, and there you have a 3D model. There are a few more steps after that, but the whole process only really takes a few hours. Granted, that’s longer than it would take to capture one or two photographs. But what you’re left with at the end can open up a wealth of opportunities.

You could use a platform like Sketchfab to host your 3D models. You can then embed those on your website or share them on social media. Or why not display them on tablet devices within your galleries, next to your most popular objects? You could even open out the licences on the models, so that people can print them at home, or at work.

But the raw data has bags of potential too – from giving it to artists to interpret, or schools to print. It gives people the opportunity to get creative with your content and your objects. They can edit your objects, create virtual exhibitions, interesting art works or instillations. It’s something we discussed at Culture24’s Let’s Get Real: Young Audiences conference in March, at a breakout session on 3D. The potential is great – all it takes is a little creativity.

We recently gave out a number of digital grants, one of which went towards the purchase of a 3D printer by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Some members of staff from RIBA attended our 3D digitisation training in 2015. The grant is intended to support and expand their public engagement activities and learning offer. This will include 3D printing 2D architectural drawings, as well as creating and producing their own 3D designs. It’s in these sorts of creative projects that we see the real potential of 3D, and 3D data.

We’ll be running our free 3D training session again this year, on May 16th. So you are most welcome to book a place. If you have any questions about 3D tech, you can find me on Twitter and ask me there! If you’d like to know more about the services that the London Museum Development team provide, you can find us online or send us an email.

 

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