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.