When I first started out with learning 3D visualisation techniques and software back in 2001 I longed for a way to share my models online. In the early days there was VRML and other, proprietary, methods (Superscape, Shockwave 3D, etc) but these required either big browser plugins with limited capabilities or in the case of VRML, very low polygon (simple) models. My 100,000 polygon reconstruction of the Tudor palace at Oatlands which I built from archaeological and contemporary visual evidence was never going to make it online back then.
Without providing a history of the technology used to present 3D models online – I’ve probably tried most methods through the years – we now have a splendid service called Sketchfab. I’m certain that someone has used the YouTube analogy here. Putting video online used to be hard until YouTube and the many similar services that came and went. Now you can open a Sketchfab account, upload your models, edit how you’d like them to initially appear, and share your links or embed them in your website or social media timeline. There are many sophisticated tools to change how your model appears, from its textures, to the environment and lighting, background photo, visual effects, and interactive annotations.
In the world of cultural heritage Sketchfab opens up a whole range of possibilities. Annotations allow numbered points to be attached to geometry and through the use of Markdown, those annotations can include embedded photos and hyperlinks.
Here we see a model of Hoa Hakananai’a from the British Museum’s Sketchfab account (3D capture by my colleagues at Archaeovision) with annotations to explain some of the carvings on the statue.
I’m currently working on an interactive plan of a shipwreck where annotations contain links and are used as the launch to pages with further information. It’s a really nice way to explore it without, or indeed before, any diving.
Sketchfab also contains a really good user community, including a dedicated cultural heritage group.
There’s always room for improvement. I’d love to see a point-to-point measuring tool, and I hope that the download facility one day allows for charging for models – that way people who can’t afford to give away their content can perhaps earn a bit of income, which could be good for freelancers and for Sketchfab via a commission model.
Other than that, Sketchfab is pretty amazing. Go and sign up – it’s free.
Here’s a lovely statue-menhir from the island of St Martins on the Isles of Scilly that I scanned in 2015. Sketchfab’s now ubiquity allows models to be embedded within WordPress by just pasting the link into a new line in the editor. Very handy.