A Bit About Myself
My work mirrors the evolving decades of the digitization of photography and related visual media. During this period, I have specialized in a wide gamut of fields, spanning analogue and digital photography, video, interactive media, VR and AR, multispectral imaging, photogrammetry, 3D scanning, RTI (reflective transformation imaging), digital asset management, digital publishing, UI, UX, and other imaging technologies.
Since 1981 I have been involved in academia, teaching in both undergraduate and graduate programs.
In parallel, my professional activity has focused on digital solutions for cultural heritage preservation institutions, archaeology, conservation, restoration, and presentation. I have many years of experience working with museums and educational institutions.
I work at the Department of Photographic Communication, Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem. It is recognized as the leading academic and professional institution for the study of photography, video, and visual communication technologies in the country. Its graduates today hold major positions in all spheres of the creative industries: Photographic studios, public organizations and institutions, museums, television, internet, and animation houses.
My Background in 3D
Photogrammetry and 3D scanning were, for me, a natural progression from my long-standing photographic practice. Going back to early involvement with Quicktime VR in 1991, I have always looked at novel ways to expand the scope and applications of photography, with a special emphasis on interactivity with the image.
My involvement in cultural heritage goes back to my photography student days in the ’70s. Over the decades, I have gradually added more and more visual and interactive technologies to my application arsenal. Today, 3D is a central one of these.
The Value of 3D
It is often the case that technology is seen as an answer in search of a question. Not so with 3D and cultural heritage. The two go together like a glove and a hand. Central to the issues of heritage preservation, conservation, restoration, research, and presentation is the ability to non-invasively explore the object in intimate detail. For the visitor to view it from all angles, for the curator to document and index it in its entirety, for the academic to discover new ways of seeing it, and for the entire world to enjoy the treasures online. To this purpose, Sketchfab has been and continues to be a priceless repository. Its ease of use and innovative tools greatly enhance the display quality of the 3D object and offer a platform for the cultural heritage world, second to none.
Since starting out in 3D photogrammetry and scanning, I am always in search of the ultimate tool. It would be safe to say that so far none exists. Nevertheless, my workflow has condensed down to a fairly narrow set of tools, defined both by their quality and affordability.
For the image capture stage I work with my trusty Nikon cameras (I know that Canon is just as good, but I’ve always been a Nikon guy). Lately, however, I’ve come to admire the quality and versatility of smartphone cameras. Several months ago I upgraded to the new iPhone 11 and am absolutely blown away by the speed and quality that can be achieved in a very short time. The versatility and handling, the great sharpness and depth of field, the ability to shoot raw, etc. All these features make it remarkably useful in locations where the handling of a larger camera is less convenient. In the studio however, I always go for the long route. Shooting with controlled LED lighting, processing for highlights and shadows in Lightroom, masking the images in Photoshop, etc.
For scanning, I have experimented extensively with the NextEngine scanner, which in all honesty I find wanting, especially in texture quality and speed. I have also worked a lot with low-end scanning solutions including the Microsoft Kinect and Structure sensor.
On the high end of scanning, I have had the good fortune to make use of the Artec EVA structured light scanner and lately have been in close collaboration with colleagues using the Faro Laser scanner, which offers unparalleled speed and quality.
Software is an ever-evolving topic. Over the years I have worked with a wide range of solutions, ranging from Autodesk 123D to Recap Photo, and upward. Today I have settled on three very good software solutions: Agisoft Metashape, RealityCapture and 3DFlow’s Zephyr 3D. Each has its advantages and I find myself mixing and matching, in accordance with the nature of the project. I must take this opportunity to mention the outstandingly helpful and forthcoming attitude of the people at 3D Flow. They are always available to answer questions and offer assistance. That in itself is no less important than the quality of the software itself.
Beyond that, I make ample use of open and free software such as Meshlab, Autodesk Meshmixer, and Cloud Compare.
Working in cultural heritage imaging throws up a multitude of challenges. These include:
- Size of objects: immense to extremely small
- Textures: Metal, silver, gold, ceramic, glass, fur, etc. (all of which are incredibly difficult to capture)
- Environments: Controlled and uncontrolled lighting, space and weather conditions.
- Politics and bureaucracy: Getting permission to shoot with all that it involves can sometimes be more difficult than the actual technical challenge.
The solution to all but the last involves a lot of experience, experimentation, accurate and hard work, and sometimes quite a lot of post-processing. The solution to the last issue involves being considerate, patient, well mannered and sometimes a bit cheeky.
I find it hard to imagine my workflow today without Sketchfab. Beyond being the ultimate display platform (I call it the YouTube of 3D), it offers an ever-growing set of tools for enhancing the visual quality of the model. Lighting, materials control, post-processing, etc.
Annotations, too, are a great tool and one that I’d love to see expanded with more user control. VR is the (not so) new frontier and one that Sketchfab has entered with enthusiasm. Here I still see room for further development, browser support, and enhanced utility. Animated and annotated walk and fly-throughs are an additional function I’d love to see, for heritage sites, both indoor and outdoor.
The Future of 3D in Cultural Heritage
Looking at the evolution of the visual industry, it is clear that 3D is a natural progression. Just as color photography followed B&W, panoramic VR followed flat images and video followed stills, so too one may say that 3D is fast becoming the new 2D. As I have already said, I see few areas that can benefit from 3D as greatly as the cultural heritage field.
That said, for anybody wishing to start out in the field I say: Kid yourself not. This is not an easy path nor a quick one. Surely the tools will continue to evolve and improve. The hardware and software will become more user-friendly and, before long, 3D photography will be on every smartphone, echoing the immortal words of Kodak from 1888: “You press the button, we do the rest”. Nevertheless, just as smartphones have not erased the need for high-quality professional photography and automated solutions have not overtaken the manual creative process, so too my belief is that in 3D, there will always be the divide between the growing home user market and the professional. As I always say to my students, professionalism is not just about skills, mastery of the tools and creativity. It is just as much about reliability, credibility, sensitivity, consideration, and ethical conduct. This is true for any profession and 3D is, to my mind, no different.
For the cultural heritage institutions too, I see 3D changing the way they will work in the future. From my experience, while many institutions are embracing it and exploring new and innovative ways of employing it in their workflow, not all institutions are fully supportive or enthusiastic about using 3D technology. Sometimes it is due to a simple hesitance of entering new fields. Sometimes a fear of giving away too much. I have often heard the argument that putting museums online in 3D will result in reduced visitor attendance. All this is I believe certain to change. Progress cannot be curtailed and even if some arguments against 3D may be partially valid, the benefits greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Museum websites will surely offer more and more virtual 3D exhibitions. Curators and conservators will use it more in their condition reports and exhibition planning. Archives will offer greater 3D support and new uses will develop which are not yet apparent.
The sudden onset of the Coronavirus all over the world is bringing in its wake dramatic changes in the way we work, teach, socialize, and in general how we live our lives. The Cultural Heritage world, too, no less than others, is feeling the impact, especially in the massive reduction in visitor attendance. No one knows what the long term impact will be. However, it is not improbable to assume that we will experience a growing use of online heritage consumption. Virtual museums and virtual tours are certain to get a boost, and the importance of interactive 3D presentations in this context can not be overestimated.
In this respect, one of my dreams is to see Sketchfab developing a highly immersive virtual museum platform, where curators and designers may easily create fully interactive 3D exhibitions, with hotspots, annotations, sound, walkthrough functionality, and more. This seems to me an obvious progression and I see no better platform for this than Sketchfab.
My Favourite Scans
Sketchfab is the home of so many remarkable scans by so many great talents. It is hard to see all but a small fraction and harder still to choose a favourite. Over the years I have been inspired by many works by people whose names I have since forgotten. Nevertheless, if I were to have to choose a few which have inspired me, I would choose the following:
Hintze Hall, NHM London by Thomas Flynn.
The Academy of Athens by 4D Realism.
The Great Drawing Room by The Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm.