3D Models of Museum Objects

Increased demand for access to museum collections is driving a trend toward object digitisation. This can only increase more as we move to a new world of restricted physical access. Three dimensional (3D) digital interactive models provide researchers with rapid on-line access and also enables multiple people to examine the same model simultaneously.

Accurate 3D models can be used for research & conservation, online exhibitions & interaction, licensing exact 3D digital copies to other museums, public engagement, making exact physical replicas of artefacts (through 3D printing), creating merchandise and 3D digital archiving of collections.

Daniel Pett, Senior Digital Humanities Manager at the British Museum considers 3D models “…a natural extension of museum object documentation. There is a clear progression from line drawing to photography, and now to 3D representations which can be audio described, annotated, reused and embedded. There is also the potential for them to be monetised, which could potentially create a valuable income stream to fund some of the Museum’s work.”

Gallery of Cultural Heritage models on Sketchfab

Some of the world’s biggest museums like the Smithsonian and the British Museum have been leading the way using huge, inhouse, dedicated photogrammetry studios to record their objects three dimensionally.

I have been making comparative models with a highly portable and unobtrusive kit, ideal for working in smaller collections where space is at a premium. The other big advantage of portability is that valuable and fragile museum objects don’t have to leave the collection to be recorded.

There are some limitations on the type of object that can be made into a 3D model for example a feather could not work because it is too translucent, a chrome sculpture would be too reflective and some objects might be too large to photograph from all angles. However, if a 3D interactive model is impossible It would still be possible to make a 3D rotating model as an animated GIF or video.



I’ve been keeping myself busy during coronavirus lockdown, learning to make 3D (three dimensional) models. It’s an outcome of Photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photographs. The input is the photographs, and the output could be a map, a drawing, a measurement, or in this case a 3D model of a real object or scene. The YouTube videos demonstrating how to do this usually use something like a stone to photograph I make 3D. I decided to set myself a far more complicated challenge which was photographing the Monterey Cypress seedpods In the interactive box below, go ahead and make it full screen, you’ll get a better idea of what it looks like.

This seemed like a natural progression from my constructed images, where I was making photographs of from up to 200 separate photographs, and from my work for ArtUK photographing sculpture in various museums and other cultural institutions within the South West region. This 3D Image is made from 400 separate photographs all taken of The Monterey Cypress seedpods in my studio using flash lighting and an automated turntable. The images were then constructed together using Agisoft Metashape software, which took days but hopefully this will get quicker!

My model is held on a platform website called Sketchfab, the equivalent of YouTube for 3D models. Is the largest international platform for cultural heritage 3D online, and it is used by institutions like the British Museum and the Science Museum etc.

I am expecting that the single image type of documentation that I’ve been used to photographing museum objects will become a thing of the past as 3D models take their place. They can give a virtual viewer a far greater understanding of what an object is actually is like, and there is the ability to zoom in and move around an object just like have you would want to in a physical museum.

I’m looking forward to making a 3D model of have something made of clay next. I might try a complete pot or maybe just a sherd or fragment from Bideford’s rich Elizabethan past.

Monterey Cypress seedpods still image