Starting From The Beginning
The Regional Digitalization Workshop as a part of the Centre of European Meetings ŚWIATOWID in Elbląg had its beginning in 2011. At that time, it was mostly dealing with 2D digitization, making available old photographs from its own and private collections through the internet. During that time, a rich database of the region’s cultural life was documented. The scope of the Regional Digitalization Workshop’s action changed after 2013, with the project “Digital Warmia and Mazury,” co-financed with resources from the European Regional Development Fund. From then on, the workshop has been documenting and disseminating the regional cultural heritage of Polish Warmia and Mazury. It is the first in the region using 3D scanning technology for that. Via a website, it is making available visualizations of the most precious architectural and museum heritage objects from the region, supporting new forms of participation in the culture, and promoting the Warmian-Masurian region as a place to visit.
Now the richness of the region is represented on the website by its 288 museum exhibits from 11 museums and 17 architectural objects. This diverse group also includes six spatial forms—original examples of modern art objects situated on Elbląg’s streets and also objects unique in terms of world industrial heritage. One example is the Elbląg Canal in Poland, with its remarkable 19th-century system of inclined planes powered only by water.
From The Object To Digital Visualization
The variety of sizes, materials, and individual specifics of the objects determines how they are documented and later presented on the website. Only in a few cases were exhibits transported to our Workshop. Usually, we go to them, avoiding the risk of the objects being damaged during transport. This approach allows us to be more flexible in the final choice of objects, although it influences the time that we can spend on digitization.
Additionally, we need to arrange a new setup in a museum’s limited space with uncontrolled light conditions. Often, institutions that we visit are hosting digitization for the first time. Meeting interesting people who have an in-depth knowledge of the exhibits gives us a perfect opportunity to conduct short interviews, which we later make available on our YouTube channel.
We collect the precise documentation necessary for the cultural objects’ protection using a structured white light scanner and laser scanner. The Artec Spider and Smarttech ScanBright Archeo are used for smaller objects, and the Faro Focus X330 is used for digitizing larger objects like architecture. All data is then processed in ArtecStudio or FaroScene and archived on our servers. To support both techniques for visualization purposes, we also take a set of photographs to generate models using photogrammetry (Agisoft PhotoScan Standard Edition). If needed, copies of the 3D models are edited in 3D Graphics software like Geomagic Studio, Autodesk 3ds Max, or MeshLab. High-resolution photos are taken for all objects. In the case of very small but detailed exhibits, like a pilgrim’s badge, macro photos are also taken. Furthermore, we also document sites with the use of 360 panoramas, creating virtual tours from them. All types of documentation, if needed, are available for owner institutions.
Heritage Brought To Life In Digital Form
We believe that one of the best ways to preserve cultural heritage is through public awareness. That’s why we don’t want to stop with just documentation and why we use the acquired data to disseminate virtual representations of cultural objects among society. To achieve that we mainly use our website to publish our work. Delivery of 3D models and point clouds to the wide public without the limitations of expensive, sophisticated software is very difficult. Initially, these models were presented as simple, linear animations on our website, but this solution had the disadvantage that free manipulation and zooming in of the models were impossible. Exploration of our heritage is now more engaging and much easier using the 3D models on our website and our profile on Sketchfab.
We’re still working on a similar style of presentation of our point clouds on our website, but some of them soon will be available to explore on Sketchfab. Before we put models in publications, we still need to make some adaptations. Their geometry and texture resolution have to be reduced with the use of the software mentioned above. But in the end, the Internet users are provided with a virtual three-dimensional representation of the heritage object, which can be rotated in all directions and zoomed in at any interesting part. The 100 visualized cultural heritage objects are also now available for the visually-impaired thanks to specially prepared audio descriptions.
All multimedia would be just nice pictures if we didn’t put them in the proper context. Their real value is hidden in their meaning and history. How they look and how they were made helps us to determine that. To support this circle of cultural heritage understanding, we enrich each digital object’s visualizations with texts prepared by specialists and experts in the region’s cultural heritage.
Such a broad spectrum of actions requires a wide range of qualifications from our small five-person team:
- Paweł Kondraciuk: part of the Workshop from its very beginning and the expert responsible for 3D digitization. After hundreds of hours spent in the field and gaining experience in practice, he became a self-taught 3D scanning specialist and is still always discovering useful tricks.
- Tomasz Misiuk: a professional taking care of photographic documentation, virtual tours, and short films with cultural heritage experts.
- Urszula Kondraciuk: began as our editor, and after taking specialized courses and studies is now starting to support 3D digitization and creating models with photogrammetry, while still helping in metadata development and project preparation.
- Edyta Bugowska: team member responsible for the researchers’ texts published on our website, contacts with partners, and running all our social media. She’s also supporting our manager in the preparation of digitization projects and applications for funding.
- Hanna Laska-Klienszmidt: our manager. She is taking care of the administrative aspects of our work and, as mentioned before, preparation of digitization projects and applications for funding.
Team size and the number of tasks determine the number of digitized objects and the degree of manual improvement to models created via semi-automatic software processes. But even with such a small team, we are trying to follow both worldwide and local pioneers in digital heritage (e.g., Malopolska’s Virtual Museums), while also realizing our own innovative ideas.
Digital Heritage in “New Realities”
Looking for new possibilities to present regional heritage and to popularize it amongst young people, we recently, for the first time, produced VR and AR applications. The VR apps were outsourced and created by professional game development studios. Our general idea was to enable the user to interact with the digitized object in a safe virtual environment. Within the app, users can visit a virtual gallery and take the digitized objects in their hands, breaking the barriers that exist in real exhibitions. The creation of the virtual location also lets us transport the users in space and time to the medieval village. They can try their hand at decorating the pots using the pot decoration techniques they saw in the virtual gallery, and they can try archery. Without VR, it would be impossible to become, for a moment, a machine driver trying to move a ship through one of the inclined planes of the Elbląg Canal.
Even with such a small team and so many tasks, we still save some time for our own creativity. Using the free game engine Unity, we’re also making AR apps. Our purpose in creating them was to deliver some useful educational tools for teachers. Using the technology available on mobile phones, we hope to use the lesson to support educators in the attractive presentation of regional history. Thanks to the apps, it’s possible to demonstrate these in classes at any time without traveling to the museum.
The richness of content available on the Internet from around the world sometimes makes it difficult to find what you are looking for. The Regional Digitalization Workshop’s main task is to document the cultural heritage of Warmia and Mazury to protect it for future generations and gather it in one easily accessible place for teachers and enthusiasts. Moreover, it is trying to let that heritage exist in new areas of social activity in a changing world. By publishing models of the digitized objects of our region’s cultural heritage on Sketchfab, among cultural heritage from around the world, we hope to make our heritage more prominent on the world stage.