Digital Humanities Practicum

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For my digital humanities practicum I have been working with the Royal College of Surgeons in an attempt to create a 3D Repository for their collection of busts. There are between 15-20 busts in total in the collection and they are mainly sculpted in either marble or bronze and depict various individuals of notoriety who are associated with the college. Upon beginning the project the goal of the practicum was to capture all of the busts within the collection and using computational imaging in my specific case, photogrammetry, to create 3D models of them and house them on an online platform to act like a repository. This online platform, and in my case the one which I have decided to use being SketchFab, will be then integrated with the institutes new heritage website to showcase the various busts. I feel that creating these models and uploading them online will mean they become more accessible for the public to view them in their current state. As with any physical item, a historical artifact or not, there always runs the risk that the item may become damaged, lost or stolen. In the case of the busts this is very evident as it can be seen that they have become damaged and eroded over time. A creation of a digital 3D model in that case is just one of the ways in which it can be a preservation of the bust in its current state.

The first stage to this project, after meeting with both my Supervisor in the RCSI and my MU mentor, was the capturing stage. Unfortunately here is where I came up against my first hurdle. The busts are all ranging in different sizes and created at different times, the first few were commissioned in the mid 19th century so nearly 150 years old. As it happens the older and more damaged busts are also the heaviest and thus where originally it was assumed by both myself and my supervisor that the porters within the institution would be able to handle the busts changed to a specialised company being hired to carry out the work as it had posed too much of a risk to both the porters and the busts themselves. Originally, the capturing had been planned to take place over 4 separate days however now I was only restricted to one day. This unfortunately also resulted in only a select number of the busts being captured and not the entire collection.

On the day of capturing it became clear why a specialised company had been hired. The older busts, needed wooden supports put in place around their necks for the movement between their stand to the trolley. which Even if there was the smallest movement the wrong way, it definitely have resulted in the busts becoming damaged. After I got set up with the lights, camera etc… I began the capturing. Normally photogrammetry is done by rotating the object, however due to the objects being so heavy I rotated around the object while the company hired would lower or higher the busts when I needed. In total I captured 8 busts and will return to capture the final statue at a later stage as I can do so without moving any object or assistance from an outside company.

The next stage of the project was the processing stage. For this I am using the software Agisoft Photscan, which I can import all the captured images onto and after masking them, align them and allow the software to build a 3D model. Agisoft Photoscan is a relatively simple program to use, it actually does most of the hard work for you when it is processing a model, the only downfall is how time consuming this process can be. Masking an object can take 5/6 hours and then depending on how many images you have or the settings you decide to use during processing to actually build the 3D model it can take up on 8-10 hours. Normally this means you would leave it running overnight or step away from your computer but if something was to go wrong, or stop during this time it can feel like a lot of time wasted. Luckily my processing has been running smoothly and although I had a few issues with the software starting off I was able to contact AgisoftPhotoscans support team and they helped me through some troubleshooting issues I had at the start.

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As mentioned above I am using SketchFab to upload the models, and from here integrate this upon the RCSI’s heritage website. SkecthFab is a fairly user friendly website so functionality wise maneuvering through the website has been straightforward. SketchFab also offers cultural institutes and academic institutes the possibility of opening up a free account which we are able to take advantage of with the RCSI. Once uploaded I will be able to add on the annotations to the models, this will include information about the individual portrayed in the bust, the sculptor and also who commissioned the piece. I also hope to take advantage of the fact that you can include an audio element into SketchFab. As I am only capturing one statue for this project and the rest are busts I want the statue to stand alone somewhat from the rest of the project and here is where I was hoping to do this. Finally once all the models have been uploaded to SketchFab I will be able to collaborate with the RCSI’s IT department and they will be able to integrate this platform onto their website and thus this will not only mean the models will be on the institutes SketchFab account but also on the institutes website and thus gaining more visibility for the project.

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