2017 so far

Headphones, iMac, microphone

This year has been a strange one so far. The first months of this year saw me suffering from chronic back pain, and finding the road towards being pain free. I’m on that road, but not at the end of it yet. So, a bit of a setback.

I’m typing this on my new sit/stand electrically adjustable desk perched on an ‘active’ stool, standing on a soft rug. Some will view this as laughably hipster, others with back pain will know that anything is worth a try. It’s definitely helping.

Now that I’m easing back into work, I’ve got a number of projects underway. I’m working on another shipwreck project on the Isles of Scilly to create accessible tours of a group of wrecks, and I have a number of 3D archaeological recording contracts booked in. It’s always nice to do some gentle fieldwork. It might be a while before I’ll be able to dig again!

Computer with microphone and headphones
Recording a voiceover using a large diaphragm condenser microphone and Focusrite audio interface using a split-screen layout for video and script.

Yesterday saw me recording a voiceover for a shipwreck dive video. It was nice to dust off some old skills and try out some new software. I think the result sounds good. I don’t particularly like the sound of my own voice, but I am used to it after years of recording podcasts.

Along with a nearby colleague, I have undertaken another survey of the medieval Market Cross here in Penzance, where we have combined photogrammetry, Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), traditional measured survey, and photography. We hope to produce the clearest possible images of the inscriptions and decorations and work with a specialist in medieval writing to see if we can provide an updated view of this important monument.

I’m also planning some meetings with museums in Cornwall to introduce the idea of 3D recording and public dissemination of their collections via Sketchfab. There are so many wonderful objects in the stores of Cornish museums, rarely if ever being displayed. As 3D scanning becomes easier, and the benefits are realised, I’m sure that this will become a rapidly growing area. I have my first meeting on Monday at a small museum that punches well above its weight.

Tehmina and I are planning a month-long trip to New Zealand this July/August, which is part of her work as Cornwall’s ACE supported Changer Makers programme. We will visit many of New Zealand’s museums for Tehmina’s research, and I hope to investigate how technology is being used to record and interpret the shared pasts of the diverse groups of people who live there.

We have also joined the Folklore Society to access their journals and become more widely involved in the field of folklore research. As practitioners of some traditional Cornish customs (mainly “guise dancing” – a kind of mumming using disguises during the Christmas period) we have begun to thoroughly research it with the aim of producing academic and popular articles to draw attention to this wonderful tradition. We have discovered some wonderful things and even talked to some very elderly people who took part in guise dancing in the 1920s-40s. But that is another blog post all of its own…

So, now we’re nearly half way through 2017, here’s to a productive and enjoyable, and hopefully more spinally flexible rest of the year. With any luck, and I say this each year, I’ll write a little more.

On Sketchfab and Cultural Heritage

Sketchfab screenshot

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.

 

Interactive 3D Models on Sketchfab

Publishing 3D models online used to be a pain. It always relied upon plugins, and the results could never be very detailed. Sketchfab has changed all of that, and made publishing beautifully detailed 3D models a breeze. You could use the analogy that Sketchfab is a kind of YouTube for 3D models. It is also a social network in that favourites, comments and forum discussions are all part of the system.

Whenever I can I will be publishing my models on Sketchfab, and when it’s not work in progress or for a client, I intend to enable downloads under a Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0) license.

Here’s a taster of Penzance Market Cross with a detail enhancement filter applied to it (think inverted chalk rubbing). You may need a fast broadband connection and fairly recent computer to have a smooth viewing experience of this model.

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