The Future of 3D in Churches and Heritage

 

In a guest post, Jacob Scott, who is part of the Events and Services Team at Rochester Cathedral, writes about new ways of exploring the heritage of churches using 3D modelling.

Our churches, cathedrals and other heritage sites of all shapes and sizes are full of beauty and intrigue, yet it is often obvious even to the casual observer that either by design, destruction or due to the ravages of time the vast bulk of what could have been seen at these places has been lost. Virtual reconstruction has given our imaginations a limitless canvas allowing archaeologists to tell the stories of sites through centuries or even millennia.

Reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at Rochester c. 700 AD (ctrl + mouse click to zoom).

Three-dimensional modelling of complex and unique buildings from scratch, however, remains time consuming and, thus, expensive. Photogrammetry, a process whereby a computer uses multiple two-dimensional photographs of an object taken from different angles to create a three-dimensional model, provides an opportunity for creating detailed models quickly and accurately. It has seen use in surveying for decades, but the formidable computing requirements have until recently limited its use to large commercial or academic outfits. Over the last few years however, photogrammetric software has been developed for ever improving consumer-end PCs and now even smartphones. This relatively simple process allows the creation of detailed models taking little more time than it takes the capture the photos required; which when uploaded to the internet can be viewed by a global audience. Models can also be viewed with newly released virtual-reality headsets, as well on visitor’s smartphones or tablets.

Tomb in north aisle, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

Heritage4D uses photogrammetry alongside ‘manual’ virtual modelling techniques to aid interpretation of historical sites and archaeological data, publishing models and media from around the UK and overseas. Being based at Rochester Cathedral in Kent has allowed the construction of several thousand models over the last year from dozens of sites and several archaeological excavations (heritage4d.org/peterborough-cathedral); where every minute detail of a trench could prove useful in future analysis yet is almost always re-covered or obliterated during the course of a dig.

Baptismal Font, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

All Saints in Ulcombe, Kent; a beautiful 12th century church containing a collection of fantastically preserved medieval wall paintings, misericords and many other features, provided a perfect opportunity to model Heritage4D’s first church. Churches offer the opportunity to create model databases across hundreds of buildings and thousands of collections. Publication of 3D models that are titled, tagged and described can greatly increase the exposure of the church online, with names of graves and tombs available for genealogy queries on search engines.

Carving of wooden misericord, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

We are still in the earliest of days, where almost everything that can be modelled has not been. As with the early days of two-dimensional photography in the 19th century, every model that is created can serve as a valuable reference for the future; sometimes the earliest visual record of an artefact or feature. Already we have modelled artefacts and features that have since been destroyed or covered, either through excavation or development. All too often in the heritage field it can feel that we’re in a race against time; photogrammetry offers us another tool with which to appreciate and conserve our heritage.

For more information visit www.heritage4d.org or contact Jacob Scott, email: jacob.scott@heritage4d.org

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