A 3D model of an East Greek wine jug. Image © Ure Museum.
By Dr. James Lloyd / 04.21.2016
In recent years, there has been a flurry of new technologies emerging at a price which makes them (just about) affordable, notably 3D scanners and printers, and such technologies have attracted attention in the news of late for their employment in the digital recreation of artefacts and archaeological sites destroyed by IS. Indeed, 3D printing is a wonderful tool for bringing the past to life: Museum3D, for example, uses its 3D prints to engage museum visitors with low-vision and Alzheimer’s. However, as this post will show, 3D scanning is just as important to public history.
There are many methods to creating a 3D model. One of the most popular methods for amateurs is photogrammetry, where all you need is a good camera and a modern computer. Thankfully, museums the world over have been engaging with such technologies, and have also been pretty generous in making their scans freely available: for example, the Smithsonian hosts some online via AutoDesk, while the British Museum has a collection freely available for download from Sketchfab, either to admire on a screen, or to print out (Links to these collections, as well as some other great examples, are listed below).
Nonetheless, 3D scans and 3D-printed replicas can never replace their non-pixelated ancestors. The detail required for the academic study of objects often requires seeing and handling an artefact in person (and applying for travel grants). In this regard, 3D collections can complement museum visits. A case study published in 2013 showed that the use of a ‘virtual museum’ not only encouraged users to visit the museum, but had a positive impact “before, during, and after a visit.” As with any form of translation (for 3D scans translate from the physical to the digital), when we view 3D scanning as both an educational tool and a tool for engagement, the intended audience is a key factor in driving the creative process.
3D Scanning and Gamification
Gamification as part of engagement and education is a sure-fire way to appeal to a broad spectrum of visitors. In fact, Sofia Romualo, a PhD student in Exeter is taking the principles of game design and applying them to the collections of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. She says: “Gameful design is now used regularly for commercial and marketing purposes, but the way it can benefit museums hasn’t yet been explored widely…There is growing recognition that building upon the elements which make engaging – having goals, challenges, a storyline and role play – can help bring the past to life…”
With this in mind, the potential for museums and educators to create gamified 3D environments is huge, and is something with which I am trying to engage myself at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. As the availability of 3D technologies increases, gamification is the development which may prove most effective at bringing history to new audiences. Using freeware such as Blender and Unity, we can create an end product from our 3D scans which will require the user to actively engage with them in order to progress and unlock more artefacts and features, though this is still very much a work in progress. However, in the meantime, our scans can be found online here.