Seeing art from every angle

Visitors to the National Gallery of Australia experience a new angle on art – examining artefacts in three dimensional detail via an interactive touch screen.

The Challenge

Art behind the glass

Visiting a gallery or museum can be a fun experience but sometimes frustrating, as you crane your head around to get a better view of the other side of a sculpture or ancient vase kept safe in glass cases and cabinets.

CSIRO has developed a new 3D content program which scans and transforms physical exhibits into fully interactive digital sculptures.

Sometimes the detail on an artefact is very small and difficult to see from your position behind the red rope.

Obviously, visitors to the museum or gallery can’t pick up and handle the exhibits to get a closer view or study them in detail, but we’ve come up with a solution that allows them to explore the item from every angle in life-size scale.

Our Response

3D imaging transformation

We’ve joined forces with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to create a new way for visitors to interact with the artefacts from a recent exhibition, Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea; showcasing the intricate sculptural art of the Sepik River region.

Building on our 3D scanning capabilities, our scientists, in collaboration with National Biological Research Collections and the Atlas of Living Australia have developed a new 3D content deployment platform using open web standards to transform the physical exhibits into fully interactive digital sculptures.

Not only can the exhibits be viewed from different angles but the program incorporates the inclusion of relevant information about different parts of the artwork – in a way that is more descriptive and engaging than the traditional text paragraph mounted on the wall behind or beside the artefact.

Myth and Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

Show transcript

[Music plays and text appears: The Power of 3D Scanning Myth + Magic Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea]

[Image changes to show different artworks within the exhibition]

Crispin Howarth: Visitors to the National Gallery, to this particular exhibition, Myth and Magic Art of the Sepik River,

[Image changes to show people entering the Myth and Magic Art of the Sepik River exhibition]

they are going to see artworks which have never been on public display before.

[Image changes to show Crispin Howarth, Curator Pacific Arts, National Gallery of Australia]

And these are artworks from very exotic, faraway cultures in a remote area of Papua New Guinea.

[Image changes to show different artworks within the exhibition]

[Image changes to show Clyde D’Rosario, Head of Digital Strategy, National Gallery of Australia]

Clyde D’Rosario: We worked with CSIRO on this opportunity to take this exhibition and do something, something different, especially in the interactive space. We’ve never really done anything like this before.

[Image changes to show Matt Adcock, Research Engineer, CSIRO]

Matt Adcock: As well as moving our own collections into the digital world, we realised that there’s a large number of galleries and museums around Australia that are realising that there’s this digital economy that they need to be part of. So we’ve been doing a number of projects that help museums move into that space.

[Image has changed back to Crispin Howarth]

Crispin Howarth: It is our role here at the National Gallery to ensure that these works are shown as bright, shining ambassadors of the previous cultures and also as great works of art.

[Image changes to show 3D scans of the artworks within the exhibition]

Matt Adcock: We’ve been able to 3D scan the works of art, we can annotate different parts of the 3D scan, so we can deploy that into a touch screen environment, almost with a click of a button, and allow people to investigate those bits of extra information that the curators want the visitors to experience.

[Image has changed back to Crispin Howarth]

Crispin Howarth: With the 3D scanning project, there is an ability there to reveal an extra layer of these static sculptures.

[Image changes to show 3D scans of the artworks within the exhibition and Matt Adcock can be heard off camera]

Matt Adcock: The 3D models are able to be rotated, the public can view them from any angle. 

[Image has changed back to Crispin Howarth]

Crispin Howarth: It’s also a way to add layers of information beyond the normal small museum label text. 

[Image changes to show a member of the public viewing one of the computer generated images of the artworks]

[Image has changed back to Crispin Howarth]

You are able to zoom in and see the subtle, dappled area of the woods, and you are able to detect where the objects have been carved with adzes with stone blades, they have been scrapped backward with pigs tusks, and I think that’s fascinating, and we point this out on the 3D scans, it makes people look again. 

[Image changes to show a member of the public viewing one of the computer generated images of the artworks]

And if the 3D scanning project can help people look at the objects again in a different light, I think it’s really won. 

Clyde D’Rosario: The confidence I had in CSIRO to deliver it was high, because I saw what they had done previously.

[Image has changed back to show Clyde D’Rosario] 

I think they exceeded every one’s expectations, including the curator.

[Image changes to show 3D scans of the artworks within the exhibition

Crispin Howarth: This form of technology has excited me.

[Image has changed back to Crispin Howarth] 

From a curatorial point of view, I think, 3D scanning is in its infancy and it will become a vital tool within museums.

[Image changes to show 3D scans of the artworks within the exhibition] 

Clyde D’Rosario: I’ve had nothing but positive responses from everyone, and I’m hoping it will start to change the mindset and the culture of the Organisation to take it in this direction.

[Image has changed back to Matt Adcock] 

Matt Adcock: So looking more broadly, the application for publishing 3D scans is huge.

[Image changes to show 3D scans of the artworks within the exhibition] 

You can look at education, even journalism as other different applications where there’s stories to be told about physical objects.

[National Gallery of Australia logo appears on screen] 

[Music plays, CSIRO logo appears on screen with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

Visitors can interact with the touch screen and view the artwork close-up, from the bottom or the back, and learn more about the intricate details and the culturally significant features: like symbols and materials.

The Results

Interactive 3D experience

The new 3D interactive content application doesn’t replace seeing the artefact in real life but it adds depth and additional information to complement and enhance the visitors’ experience.

The use of 3D scanning for this type of application is still in its infancy, however, this project clearly demonstrates the enormous possibilities and it is likely that it will become a vital tool within museums.

We see this as another step on our path of working with many organisations to help them embrace digital innovation.

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