Cultural Heritage Spotlight: The 3D digitization process at RMCA

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Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections. Today’s blog post features the Royal Museum for Central Africa, an ethnography and natural history museum located in Tervuren just outside Brussels. It’s a first-class centre for scientific research on Africa and one of the most visited museums in Belgium.

The DIGIT-03 3D digitization program at the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) started in July 2014. Since then more than 500 objects from the collections have been digitized in 3D.

While digitizing collections a museum faces different challenges: tight budget, large collections, wide diversity of materials and size, fragile objects that can even degrade during the digitization process! Museum and research institutes need affordable solutions that enable to digitize the collections with a good cost/time/quality ratio. During a previous project (AGORA-3D) we were able to test a large diversity of equipment (structured light scanner, laser scanner, etc.) and software. The quality obtained with photogrammetry and the cost/time ratio made it our preferred technique for this project. Results have a quality that enables scientists to work with it and the photorealistic texture enables us to use the models for dissemination purposes.

Each digitized object is pictured 50 to 150 times from different angles depending on the complexity of the object. The photographs are taken using an amateur DSLR with an APS-C sensor and a set of macro lenses (60 mm and 100 mm). The object is placed on a turntable with a smooth indirect light setup. In case of highly reflective object a polarizing filter is used to reduce the reflections and to produce a better quality model. The turntable can be rotated manually or commanded by an “in-house” software that also controls the camera. The pictures are processed using Agisoft Photoscan.

The first digitized collection were the type specimens (which are the first described individuals of a species) of the mollusc collection. This enabled the 3D team to test a large diversity of material optical properties. Now the digitization moved on to an archaeological metal collection and attempted new challenges like photogrammetry of arthropods (see Pandinus Imperator model above in the article) and insects (see Goliathus Goliathus model just above) and of very small specimens using photogrammetry combined to focus stacking.

The Africa Museum is making its collection permanent through time with the help of digitization.

Thanks again for sharing, Aurore!

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About the author

Raphaël Marchou

Cultural Heritage Enthusiast !

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