Flyover Zone was founded in 2015 with the mission of virtualizing world heritage. To this end, we have created two product lines. Our first is Yorescape, a platform for virtual tours through space and back in time to places like ancient Athens, Baalbek, Egypt, and Rome. Our second is the Virtual Museum, a curated collection of 3D interactive models of sculptures directed by the distinguished German exhibition designer Lothar Altringer. At present, the museum consists of over 1,000 models of classical art. With time, the company plans to offer 3D models of art from other cultures around the world.
We work in two distinct styles. First, we use what might be called a “documentary” style to provide accurate digital twins of the sculptures we capture so that our models can offer reliable visualizations of the originals for use by students, scholars, and artists. We call the resulting creations “state models” because they show the condition, or “state,” of the monument we have digitized. We always publish our state models with standard metadata providing information about the name of the original sculpture modeled, its height, the museum where it is housed, the inventory number, etc.
Our second style is what in conservation science is called “artistic restoration.” When we create a virtual tour showing how a heritage site looked hundreds or thousands of years ago, we need to show the sculptural decoration as it looked then, and not how it appears today. So, we supplement missing parts of the sculpture (e.g., a finger, foot, or nose), and in the case of Greek or Roman white marble sculpture we restore the lost color. In creating these “restoration models,” as we call them, we respect the findings of experts on polychromy when they are available. When, as is often the case, no scientific studies have yet been undertaken to recover traces of color on a sculpture we need, we apply the standard conventions of ancient painting. For example, the background of Greek and Roman reliefs were usually painted blue. The human body was painted with as much photorealism as the artist could muster. We restore the hair color by historical research in the case of political leaders and by iconographical research in the case of figures of myth and legend.
As examples of a state and restoration model we cite our models of the famous statue known as the “Hercules Farnese.” The state model, identifiable by its patinated white marble finish, is a digital twin of the original in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (“MANN”). The colorized restoration model repairs the damage to the statue and also incorporates the latest scientific findings of the museum’s “MANN in Colour” project led by Dr. Cristiana Barandoni.
Earning with art
We started to offer our models for sale on Sketchfab in October 2022. Our hope is our work will arouse enough interest to generate revenue supporting the expansion of our virtual museum.
Until now, we have been in the fortunate position of being able to self-finance our projects of 3D digitization. In November 2022 we will undertake our first work for hire by digitizing sculptures in The Art Institute of Chicago. Starting in 2023, we plan to do more paid work for museums in the United States and the European Union.
Deciding what to create
Decisions about what works of art to digitize are largely driven by the virtual tours we are creating for the Yorescape platform. For example, when we decided to offer a virtual tour of the Baths of Caracalla as part of our “Rome Reborn” series, we obtained the permission of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples to digitize the sculptures in its collection found in the sixteenth century excavations of the site. When we started making a virtual tour of the Acropolis in Athens, we obtained the permission of the Skulpturhalle in Basel, Switzerland to digitize its extensive collection of casts of sculpture found on the Acropolis.
Where our work has been used
Our work of modeling and digitally restoring sculpture has mainly been used by our own company as elements in our recreations of historic sites: ancient Greek and Roman temples, public buildings, and elite housing came loaded with lots of sculpture! These recreations have been used in the temporary exhibition High Tech Romans by two museums in Germany–the Landesmuseum of Bonn and the Landesmuseum of Mainz. They have also been used on commercial TV, most recently by Rick Steves for his popular PBS series of travelogues. Our 3D models have been used in Hesperia, the scholarly journal of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. They are also featured on the websites of several of our partner museums, including the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the Slater Memorial Museum, the Cast Collection of Ancient Art of the Free University of Berlin, the Cast Collection of the University of Geneva, and the Museum of Casts of Classical Art of the University of Munich.
Pricing and promotion
We have set prices in close consultation with the wonderful folks who run the Sketchfab Store. In doing so, we tried to navigate between the Scylla of affordability for the end user and the Charybdis of pricing in line with what others are charging for similar work.
Our primary market is secondary and higher education, so we give lots of demonstrations at schools. We also have a presence at major trade shows for ed-tech, libraries, and social studies. Finally, we use social media and have been fortunate to be covered by such major media outlets as Aljazeera, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the Times of London, and Smithsonian Magazine.
Presenting products on the Sketchfab Store
We first add our standard background with our copyright logo and copyright information. Then we spend a lot of TLC on the lighting. The goal is to make sure that all the intricate parts of a sculpture can be clearly seen. In choosing the initial view, we go for a chiaroscuro aesthetic to add a bit of drama that may catch the viewer’s eye and arouse their curiosity. We make heavy use of Materials and Post-processing filters with the goal of making the model appear as similar to the original as possible. Finally, we always add metadata to the Description. Our standard format includes these fields: Name, Material, Format (bust/head/statue/etc.), Museum, Museum inventory number, Museum of original and inventory number (used when the model derives from a cast), Bibliography or Link for further information, Photographer/modeler, Restorer (when the work is a restoration model), and Copyright.
For the first five years of Flyover Zone’s existence, we concentrated on production, amassing and organizing the models in our virtual museum, programming the code for Yorescape, and creating the first dozen or so virtual tours running on the Yorescape platform. In the second half of 2022, we switched our emphasis to distribution. We set up a sales department to pursue enterprise licensing by schools and universities. We opened our store on Sketchfab in order to market our models of sculpture to Sketchfab’s extensive community of 3D artists and hobbyists. We hope they will find our work useful for 3D printing and as resources for their own digital art. Here we think of how accomplished contemporary sculptors like Barry X. Ball often take a classical statue as the point of departure for their own new creations. We hope that making our models available in the store will be a service to artists and art educators demonstrating that the classical tradition is alive and well in the 21st century!
As we mentioned, our modeling of sculpture is driven by the virtual tours Flyover Zone is creating at any given time. Until now, we have stressed the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. As the company expands its coverage of world heritage to continents such as Africa and Asia, we anticipate a concomitant increase in the number of cultures whose three-dimensional art we will be digitizing. We still consider ourselves a young company. The classical world has been our sandbox for developing our unique approach to virtualizing sites and monuments. In the coming years, we will apply the lessons we have learned and start working in all four corners of the earth!