Digital Preservation – Saving our Past to Enrich the Future

The idea of using computer technologies to aid digital visualisation, preservation and reconstruction is not new. Traditionally, manual 3D modelling techniques were used to reconstruct various historical events, object or people. While being a useful tool in visualization, manual 3D modelling techniques could do just as much when it concerned itself with complex artefacts or sites due to the issues of time investment, difficulty of production and the level of authenticity in the digital surrogate. Today, with the improvement of data capture technologies and development of the new methodological approaches, it is possible to deliver a highly detailed digital surrogate of a physical artefact or a site of any structure and complexity while maintaining a high level of fidelity.

3D laser scanning is one of the methods among varied data capture technologies often used in the heritage preservation field as it is able to deliver extremely detailed, high-quality data. There are numerous research projects dedicated to the development of new methodologies utilising 3D laser scanning, but the majority of them do not go beyond the production of point cloud data. While point cloud data is very useful in itself for digital preservation, it requires a specifically designed software and professional knowledge in order to access and use it in any meaningful way.

The 3-D Scans, a New Zealand-based team, focuses not only on scanning the heritage artefacts, but – most importantly – making them accessible to the public as a highly detailed, textured model that can be viewed online for educational purposes.

The Edwin Fox Project is a long-term venture that the 3-D Scans team is being dedicated to during this year. The Edwin Fox Project is centred around The Edwin Fox, a 164 year-old merchant ship, preserved and displayed at Marlborough museum in Picton, New Zealand.

Built in India in 1853, The Edwin Fox is said to be the last of its kind. Today, there is no
competition to this ship in terms of long-term durability and the best state of preservation. Having survived oceans and seas, The Edwin Fox carries in itself a rich international history: some say that she even transported Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War. Such a historically significant artefact requires a digital surrogate to be made, especially considering the fact that the ship is located in the earthquake-prone area, which can be a potential threat to its physical existence.

In November 2016 a devastating Kaikoura earthquake hit New Zealand with its epicentre
being just 140 km away from The Fox’s resting location resulting in few minor damages to the ship and proving the importance and urgency in digitalising such a historically significant, heritage artefact.

In December 2016 the 3-D Scans team flew to Picton to scan The Edwin Fox. The challenging two-day scanning process resulted in 26 highly-detailed, laser scans for exterior of the ship, 20 scans for interior of the ship and more than 7,700 digital photographs for image-based photogrammetry.

While capturing all the needed data for such a complex structure as an old ship is a challenge in itself, the more daunting is the final goal of the project which is to deliver this data online while preserving all the captured details in order to satisfy all the requirement for producing an authentic digital surrogate.

All the laser scans were combined with the image-based photogrammetry to ensure the
capture of maximum details and processed in the RealityCapture software resulting in more than 370 million raw polygonal triangles for the exterior part and approximately the same for the interior part of the ship. Even though computational powers sky rocketed in past few years, a 370 million polygonal model still poses quite a task not only to be cleaned from the artefacts and restored, but even imported and viewed in any 3D modelling software. A unique workflow was developed by Katarina Marković, a CGI artist in the 3-D Scans team, which allows successful cleaning and restoration of such massive polygonal models.

Currently, the ship’s digital surrogate undergoes the merging process of the cleaned and
restored interior hull with the exterior hull, which will take approximately a month to be finalised.

The 3-D Scans team’s final goal for The Edwin Fox Project is by the end of the year to create an online interactive highly-detailed model of the ship for the public access. Also, the team’s vision extends to creating an educational tool in a form of a full Virtual Reality experience of the ship, which can be used in schools and museums to provide new ways of learning through auratic immersion.

The Edwin Fox Project. The current work-in- progress highly-detailed model. Merging clean and restored interior hull with the clean and restored exterior hull polygonal model.

Katarina Marković,
CGI artist in the 3-D Scans team,
Currently developing a methodology for digital preservation of heritage artefacts for the Master Degree in Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

For more information about The Edwin Fox Project, visit the Facebook page @edwinfox3d or contact Hennie van der Merwe, a teamleader at the 3-D Scans, via threedscan@vodafone.co.nz.

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