Source: Exploring 3D Modeling

First I want to discuss the process I went through creating my own 3D model, then I will look at some of the more broad applications of the technique. The Ackland Art Museum graciously allowed our class to practice 3D modeling with objects from their collection. I worked with this Seated Male Figure, Nayarit Culture, 200 BCE-300 CE (link to Ackland catalog record). I used the 123D Catch app on my phone to take my pictures. Unlike the typical process of moving the camera around the object while the object remained stationary, my object was placed in a black shadow box and with the help of a curator, the object was rotated while my camera remained stationary. I did allow the app to process the photos, although the resulting model was a bit of a mess. Somehow he ended up with two faces, and no base at all. I wanted more control over the images and the resulting model, particularly since many of my shots featured the curator’s hand, so I ended up using the Agisoft PhotoScan software to process the model. After cropping and aligning the images carefully, I ended up with a somewhat more satisfactory model, (uploaded as a PDF document at the end of this post). The figure still has some errors, particularly with the base and the very top of the head. The head of the figure features a small, oval hole, and the PhotoScan software seemed to have a difficult time determining if the hole was part of the object or part of the model, and it was difficult to manipulate in the mesh stage. The issues with the base came more from how I photographed it, I found it was difficult to get accurate angles when we changed the position of the object so drastically (lifting it to the center of the shadow box, held upside down). Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the process of building the model and was very surprised at how relatively simple the process was for such an intriguing end product.
When looking at the possible implementations for 3D modeling, I want to briefly explore their use in the museum setting, as discussed by Wachowiak and Karas in “3D Scanning and Replication for Museum and Cultural Heritage Applications.” In this essay, published (in both English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese) by the Smithsonian Institute, the authors discuss how the SI’s Museum Conservation Institute has incorporated 3D scanning into their conservation workflow. The authors argue that while the technique does not replace photography or other modeling tools, it does have a place in the work of conservation and preservation. Most importantly, I thought, they also note that while many cultural heritage institutions will not yet be able to afford the necessary equipment (although that might have since changed with the availability of tools like 123D Catch) conservationists and museum professionals should still remain up to date and informed on the latest innovations in the technique. This applies to all the tools and techniques we have looked at throughout the semester, but it is a good reminder. Museums are also going to have start considering topics such as unauthorized use of 3D modeling (the Head of Nefertiti) and providing access to their own collection. For example, the Smithsonian has an initiative to provide free access and download to a large selection of 3D models. For the most part it sounds like an exciting chance for an unprecedented level of interaction with their collection, but some of the items made me pause and wonder if that kind of access was culturally appropriate. We will all have to stay caught up with this rapidly-changing landscape, but as Wachowiak and Karas note, it should not be much of a burden when so very many exciting innovations are providing solutions and possibilities with the potential to change everything.

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