Aug 2, 2017

Take a Virtual Reality Tour with UK Government Art Collection

Take a VR tour of a display at the UK Government Art Collection, the result of a collaboration with the Cultural Heritage team at Sketchfab.

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Curated by Dr Laura Popoviciu in the viewing space of the UK Government Art Collection, “Reframing the Past” is a display with a modern twist. The exhibition has been captured as a digital 3D model by Thomas Flynn, Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab.

The idea is that museums and cultural organisations would especially benefit by sharing interactive 3D and VR experiences online. The collaboration with the GAC is a great example. Flynn documents the technical challenges of capturing large spaces and re-creating them for an online Virtual Reality (VR) experience.

The main aims were twofold; to capture a specific place and time in 3D, and create an engaging reflection of that space for online audiences. As Flynn explains, the capture was made using a Canon camera and the photogrammetry technique.

“We were working with no budget so the simplest way to this was using good ol’ photogrammetry. We used a couple of different cameras, running the images through PhotoScan and Reality Capture to see what results we could get. After a couple of false starts, ended up with an image set of 800 photos from a Canon G7x compact, shooting on full auto.”

After capturing the space, the next phase is to optimize the 3D data for sharing to the web. It was here that Flynn encountered two challenges. Firstly, the poly-count was too high relative to the simple dimensions of the room. Secondly, the resolution of the individual artworks simply weren’t good enough.

The first problem was tackled by loading the scan mesh into Blender. The team rebuilt the space from cubes and extruded planes. To keep the file size low, they omitted modelling fine details like plug sockets, window frames, and lamps. The result is a final mesh with only several hundred faces instead of a few thousand.

With regard to individual works, the team sourced higher resolution image files and imported them as individual planes. Flynn cites the process for one artwork as an example:

“In the case of Roger Ackling’s sculptural Isle of Wight, we had to process another image set into 3D then optimize and import it separately. Frames for all the flat artworks were modelled from scratch too.”

UK Government Art Collection: Cultural Diplomacy Goes Online

The final touches were to add annotations to each artwork, plus an audio description from Popoviciu and VR set-up. The entire process, from initial photography to uploading to Sketchfab, took just under two weeks.

Poppoviciu is very happy with the result. Learning about photogrammetry and how it applies to her discipline, she describes feeling a “sense of wonder”.

In a blog post for the UK Government Art Collection, she outlines the diplomatic importance of the collection:

“For a collection whose artworks travel constantly around the world in order to play an active role as agents of cultural diplomacy, the encounter between particular works in a curated display in the viewing space might happen periodically and often by pure chance.”

Now some of them are accessible online, not least of which as a VR experience, their reach is greater than ever before. And learning about the process of creating and sharing 3D content online, she adds, has also shifted her perception and positioning in relation to objects.

For his part, Flynn, is excited by the potential for expansion.

“Imagine being able to experience other works from the Government Art Collection in the context of grand rooms at British embassies around the world,” he says. “It’s definitely possible!”

Sources: Sketchfab & UK Government Art Collection

License: The text of "Take a Virtual Reality Tour with UK Government Art Collection" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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