Post 2: 3DM – Introduction to Computer Modeling in the Cultural Heritage Sector

The previous post for the AFF621: 3D computer modeling assignment looked at the emergence of archaeological illustration as we might know it today, and then briefly discussed the concept of reconstruction in the field of archaeology and cultural heritage. It was suggested that, on a whole, archaeological illustration evolved to become a disciplined area with rules of draughtsmanship, and a concern for legitimacy, context and audience. However, it was noted that the use of computer graphics in archaeological visualisation from the 1990s brought with it new techniques, but also new debates. This post will focus on a brief introduction to the realisation of computer graphics for the purpose of cultural heritage visualisation.



Image Ivan Sutherland’s Digital Sketchpad, 1963 – Image Source: Sun Microsystems in Bloomberg Business

The birth of computer graphics is attributed to Ivan Sutherland in 1963, and was initially concerned with “line drawings” (Dutre, Bekaert and Bala 5). However, this evolved rapidly to involve, shading algorithms, colouring techniques and then texture mapping which allowed “for more realism in computer-generated imagery ” (Ibid.). In 1973, the archaeologist J.D. Wilcock envisaged a future where computational methods would have the potential to produce reconstructions of monuments and temples via the use of computer techniques, though he had to wait until the 1990s to have his hopes realised (Frischer vi).  The introduction of “light-source modelling”, to produce accurate shadows, progressed to the development of ‘ray tracing’ in the 1980s “as an image-based method” and was a contributory factor to the potential of producing “photorealistic effects” (Dutre, Bekaert and Bala 6-7). This prompted a further development of a radiosity algorithm as a scene-based method and by the end of the 1980s, both ray tracing and radiosity algorithms were used as theoretical solutions to produce photorealistic images (Ibid. 7-8). These developments were significant for many areas of study “where visual accuracy is critical”, for example in medical and surgical training, and also for pilots through air flight simulations (Roussou and Drettakis). When archaeologists finally experimented in the creation of illustrations with computer graphics in the 1980s (Dwyer 263), they perceived the “visual representations of their interpretations as an indulgence” (Bateman). The first prominent article on using computational methods to create an archaeological 3D model, in the domain of panoramic photography was published in 1985 (Frischer vi). From 1988 to 1990, further articles were published which essentially examined the potential of computer technology for the illustration of monuments (Reilly 134).

From the early 1990s, Wilcock’s prediction that computational methods would be used for the digital reconstructions of archaeological monuments and sites soon found a momentum to be realised with the emergence of virtual archaeology (Frischer vii). Virtual archaeology (VA) facilitates “the synthesis, conservation, reproduction, representation, digital reprocessing, and display of cultural evidence with the use of advanced imaging technology” (Roussou and Drettakis).  From the outset of VA, archaeologists favoured the production of photorealistic models and imagery. Discussions on photorealistic imagery tend to relate to fidelity “or how much an image resembles something recognizable” (Malamed 103). Hence, a high fidelity visual would contain “detail, depth, shadow, texture and nuance of color as close as possible to interpreting what we see in our environment” (Malamed 103). Malamed suggests that the degree to which realism is used in an image should be dependent on the “communicative intent of the message, the characteristics of the audience, and the appropriateness of the content” (Ibid.). Low fidelity imagery is suited for a general audience “who need to quickly comprehend the message being conveyed” (Ibid.). Nonetheless, there are various debates in the use of photorealistic rendering for digital illustrations in archaeology and cultural heritage and will be discussed in the next post.


  • Bateman, Johnathan. “Immediate Realities: an anthropology of computer visualisation in archaeology.” Internet Archaeology 8 (2000) Web. 24 March 2015 <>
  • Dutre, Philip, Philippe Bekaert, and Kavita Bala. Advanced Global Illumination, Second Edition. CRC Press, 2006. Google Books.
  • Dwyer, Daniels. “Beyond the Artist’s Impression: From Photo-realism to Integarted Reconstruction in Buildings Archaeology.” The Reconstructed Past: Reconstructions in the Public Interpretation of Archaeology and History. Ed. John H. Jameson. Rowman Altamira, 2004. Google Books.
  • Frischer, Bernard. “Introduction: From Digital Illustration to Digital Heuristics” Beyond Illustration: 2D and 3D Digital Tools for Discovery in Archaeology. Eds. Eds. Bernard Frischer and Anastasia Dakouri-Hild. BAR International Series 1805. Archaeopress, Oxford., 2008. Print.
  • Malamed, Connie. Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics That People Understand. Rockport Publishers, 2011. Google Books.
  • Reilly, Paul. “Towards a virtual archaeology”. Computer Applications in Archaeology. Eds. K. Lockyear and S. Rahtz. Oxford: British Archaeological reports (BAR Int. Series   565), 1990, 133-139.Web 21 Apr. 2015. <>
  • Roussou, Maria and George Drettakis. Photorealism and Non-Photorealism in Virtual Heritage Representation. A.Chalmers. D.Arnold and F. Niccolucci, Eds. First Eurographics Workshop on Graphics and Cultural Heritage (2003), 2003, Brighton, United Kingdom. Eurographics, Proceedings of the International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archeology and Cultural Heritage.Web 09 Apr. 2015. <>

Image Source: Sun Microsystems in Bloomberg Business “3D Graphics’ Evolution: From Sage to Gehry” < >


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