Post 3: 3DM – Issues and Challenges with 3D Computer Modeling in the Cultural Heritage Sector

In continuing on from the last post for the AFF621: 3D computer modeling assignment,  and still with the theme of computer modelling in the cultural heritage sector, this post will look at some of the issues and challenges that have emerged over the last two decades.

There are various debates in the use of photorealistic rendering for digital illustrations in archaeology and cultural heritage. One argument claims that photorealism provides “no indication of uncertainty to the audience in terms of what areas are based on clear evidence from excavation or survey [. . .] and the areas which have been subject to more creative interpretation” (Waterson). Moreover, there is criticism that such images dupe the audience into “[sic] loosing their ability to critique the information within the image rationally” (Waterson). However, debates which support the use of photorealism suggest that “in order to re-create the atmosphere of [a] reconstructed building, a degree pf photorealism may be necessary in some cases, for example, to see how light is distributed” (Dwyer 265). Moreover, Rahaman, Das, and Zahir suggest that quite often the general public “expect a high level of realistic impression as their mind set is already driven by experiences from films.” Other debates centre on whether to use photorealistic or non-photorealistic rendering for presenting an interpretation of cultural heritage monuments/objects based on the rationale of the intended audience (Rahaman, Das, and Zahir; Kang and Kwon; Roussou and Drettakis).

The field of computer-generated non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) emerged in the 1990s (Döllner and Buchholz 3; Pomaska; Kennelly and Kimerling 36) “as an alternative to photorealism” with programmes that “attempted to mimic what an artist/illustrator might do” (Finkelstein 24; Hanratty 4). As a technique it has been used in cartooning, architecture, computer games and medical science applications (Haller 192; Pomaska). NPR is often equated as low fidelity imagery and tends to “focus on essential details, induce a quick response, strengthen the impact of message, or provide explanation, particularly to those with nominal knowledge of content” (Shalin 10). Döllner and Buchholz suggest that it provides a means “for visual abstraction as a primary technique to effectively communicate complex spatial information” (13). Nijhuis, Van Lammeren and Van der Hoeven contend that it is an appropriate technique to apply “to simplified and efficient modelling and visualising uncertainties” (189). According to Kang and Kwon “[i]n representing virtual heritage, historical accuracy is important for archaeologist’s and historians, but artistic interpretation is also necessary for education and virtual tourism.” They suggest that “high precision or realism isn’t always the best way to convey ideas”, and they contend that NPR is “useful in the interpretation of cultural heritage.” Although, to date, there has been a lack of significant studies which specifically address end-users and the effects of photorealistic/non-photorealistic approaches (Rahaman, Das, and Zahir).

In 1997, Forte and Silliotti wrote Virtual Archaeology to provide an overview of projects around the world that were incorporating ‘virtual’ 3D models. Fischer suggests that the early models “served the purpose of illustration and resulting publications tended to focus on methods and technologies supporting the creation of such illustrations” (vii). However, by the late 1990s the emphasis shifted from merely making models to promoting best practices (Fischer vii). This encompassed the use of metadata standards, providing documentation based on scientific methods, and producing a visual language for users to identify whether elements of a model were “definitely attested” or “hypothetical elements of a model” (Fischer vii). However, this might also be seen as moving in line with the digital movement in general for establishing authenticity of digital objects, and an increasing emphasis on digital preservation.

From the 1990s, scholars identified issues with “‘intellectual transparency’” vis-a-vis “epistemological problems posed by hyperrealism”, and thus, a need to “reconcile heritage visualisation with professional norms of research, particularly the standards of argument and evidence” (Dennard 57-58). Indeed, Roussou and Drettakis suggest that “technologists dealing with the virtual representation of heritage content are, naturally, less concerned with authenticity and accuracy of the content itself and more involved with the accurate visualisation of the content.” Thus, they suggest that the success of a visual representation is often measured in term of how photorealistic it is (Roussou and Drettakis). Elsewhere, Beacham calls this “showmanship” before “scholarship” (10). To combat this, The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage was set up in 2006 to ensure “the methodological rigour of computer-based visualisations as a means of researching and communicating cultural heritage” (Dennard 57). Moreover, the guidelines incorporated the necessity for the use of paradata (Beacham). Paradata is “data which describes something about the way the raw data was collected” (Jeavons). While this insists on a more rigorous approach in the production of visualisations in the areas of authenticity and transparency for critical appraisal, nonetheless, there still seems to be a lack of theoretical approaches which consider the intended audience or end-user. Although the use of mixed media is one approach being explored to overcome the issue of providing an appropriate visualisation that considers the audience.

This prompts an argument with the use of computer modeling in the cultural heritage sector and whether visualisation of 3D reconstructions are for show or for scholarship. What the audience wants is relatively understudied, however, let us assume that there will always be a degree of subjectivity in any given cultural heritage interpretation, and thus, should be equally balanced with a degree of objectivity for future learning.

In the next post, I will discuss the case study for the assignment for the for the AFF621: 3D computer modeling assignment.


  • Beacham, Richard C. “Defining Our Terms in Heritage Visualisation.” Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage. Eds. Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, Hugh Denard, and Drew Baker. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2012. Google Books.
  • Dennard, Hugh. “A New Introduction to The London Charter” Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage. Eds. Bentkowska-Kafel, Anna, Hugh Denard, and Drew Baker. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2012. Google Books.
  • Döllner, Jürgen and Henrik Buchholz. “Non-Photorealism in 3D Geovirtual Environments.” Cartography and Geographic Information Society, AutoCarto Proceedings Papers 2005. Web. 02 Apr. 2015. <>
  • Finkelstein, Adam. “Part I: Non-photorealistic Rendering in Line Drawings from 3D Models.” SIGGRAPH 2005 Course Notes. Web 02 Apr. 2015 <>
  • 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.
  • Haller, Michael. “Photorealism Or/and Non-Photorealism in Augmented Reality.” Proceedings of the 2004 ACM SIGGRAPH International Conference on Virtual Reality Continuum and Its Applications in Industry. New York, NY, USA: ACM,  2004. 189–196. ACM Digital Library. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. VRCAI ’04.
  • Hanratty, Conor. “Adaptive Abstraction using Non-Photorealistic Rendering in XNA.” MA  Thesis. University of Dublin, Trinity College, 2009. Web 08 Apr. 2015             < >
  • Kang, Hang-bong, and Yong-moo Kwon. “The Needs and Possibilities of Nonphotorealistic Rendering for Virtual Heritage.” Eighth International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia (VSMM2002), Gyeongju, Korea. N.p., 2002. CiteSeer. Web. 02 April. 2015.
  • Nijhuis, Steffen, Ron Van Lammeren, and Frank van der Hoeven. Exploring the Visual     Landscape: Advances in Physiognomic Landscape Research in the Netherlands. Amsterdam: TU Delft, 2011. Google Books.
  • Pomaska, Guenter. “Between Photo-Realism and Non-Photorealistic Rendering – Modelling Urban Areas for Real Time VR.” 2004. Web 22 Apr. 2015 <http://divide-by->
  • Rahaman, Hafizur, Rana Das, and Shehzad Zahir. “Virtual Heritage: Exploring Photorealism.” Progress in Cultural Heritage Preservation. Ed. Marinos Ioannides et  al. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012. 191–200. Academia. Web. 27 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 <>
  • Waterson, Alice. “Hyper-Realism, Photo-Realism and Learning to Be Realistic.” Digital Dirt Virtual Pasts. 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. <>
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