Tatjana Dzambazova, Autodesk
Tatjana Dzambazova, Technology Whisperer, Autodesk
What are some of the technologies being used in your preservation work?
Today, you can just place a couple of laser sensors in position and let them go to work. The end result looks like it was modeled, even though it’s really just a point cloud, or a collection of points in space. And because the software is able to make sense of these data, you can begin recognizing details from the scan like the number of doors and the location of buttons on an object.
Another exciting technique is something called photogrammetry, which is the process of converting simple 2D images into 3D models. The concept itself is nothing new, but what’s changed now is that it can finally be applied properly because the camera sensors today are so good.
We have algorithms that convert multiple 2D images into a 3D model, and the main benefit of this is that you get an accurate snapshot in time of the real object. Experts in 3D modeling will definitely be able to replicate this effort, but it would also be quite time-consuming. It would also never be an exact digital copy of the object, and would really just be an interpretation of it.
How are these techniques being put to use in the real world?
The Leakey family, best known for their archaeological work in Kenya and Tanzania on human ancestry, has uncovered thousands of skulls and fossils that are vital to our understanding of our origins. However, these are in the museum of Nairobi, which as you can imagine, isn’t the most accessible. That said, they are now using photogrammetry and taking photos of these fossils and then digitizing them individually. This has enabled the creation of beautiful 3D replicas, which people can study and interact with online. Best of all, the models can be downloaded and 3D-printed, a great help for teachers and students.
On a larger scale, we’ve even been able to create a complete 3D model of the city of Volterra, an ancient Italian city that has been inhabited since 800 BC. It’s not difficult to see how this might come in handy when planning your trip, or simply help you experience a place if you’re unable to make a trip down.
In addition, we’ve been able to do more than just create replicas. The Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, but we used tourist photos to recreate a 3D digital model of the monuments. This is not perfect, but it is a collective memory of sorts that preserves a slice of the past for future generations.
Will the ability to digitize artifacts undermine the value of the real thing?
Hardly. People will not lose sight of the real thing. Few people are actually able or willing to head to these museums or monuments, and exploring these digital models may inspire people to visit, so it really helps with awareness. I absolutely believe it will improve the way we learn about our world and the past because everything can be experienced with a greater degree of intimacy and accessibility.
It also promotes sharing and collaboration as researchers can now pool what they have. There will no longer be hoarding of different parts of related artifacts, and people can share digital models with each other to get the complete picture.
“I absolutely believe it will improve the way we learn about our world and the past because everything can be experienced with a greater degree of intimacy and accessibility.” Tatjana Dzambazova