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3D-ICONS Ireland – fulfilling the potential of a rich 3D resource

Anthony Corns , Gary Devlin, Aaron Deevy, Robert Shaw* and Linda Shine

*Corresponding author: The Discovery Programme, Dublin, Ireland. robert@discoveryprgramme.ie

Cite this as: Corns, A. et al. 2017 3D-ICONS Ireland – fulfilling the potential of a rich 3D resource, Internet Archaeology 43. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.43.12

As a partner in the EU co-funded 3D-ICONS project, the Discovery Programme undertook the 3D documentation of some of the most iconic cultural heritage sites in Ireland. This pan-European project aimed to establish a complete pipeline for the production of 3D replicas of archaeological monuments and historic buildings, and to publish the content to Europeana for public access. The list of Irish icons range from wider cultural landscapes to smaller ornately carved stones and includes a wide range of chronological periods: from Neolithic rock art from 2500 BC to Derry's 17th-century fortifications.

The primary digitisation methods include airborne laser scanning (ALS), phase-based terrestrial laser scanning (Faro Focus 3D) and close range structured light scanning (Artec EVA). These are now mainstream approaches for surveying historic landscapes, structures and objects, generating precise, high-resolution point cloud data, primarily for viewing and interaction in proprietary software applications. The challenge was to convert these complex high-volume datasets into textured 3D models, retaining the geometric integrity of the original data. The article highlights the development of a pipeline to produce a lightweight 3D model that enables the public to interact with a photorealistic model based upon accurate survey and texture data.

3D-ICONS ended in January 2015, but a new website 3dicons.ie was launched to offer continued access to the Irish 3D models and associated content and media generated during the project. The article will consider the impact of this online content, particularly how it has been used as a teaching aid in secondary schools and how this may be extended in the future. It will also demonstrate how content from the project has been remodelled to develop an interactive and immersive experience for the great mound at Knowth, a development in partnership with the operators of the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre.

This extended abstract is also available in hard copy in K. May (ed) 2017 Digital Archaeological Heritage, EAC Occasional Paper No.12, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

As a partner in the EU co-funded 3D-ICONS project, which ran from 2012-2015, the Discovery Programme undertook the 3D documentation of some of the most iconic cultural heritage sites in Ireland. This pan-European project aimed to establish a complete pipeline for the production of 3D replicas of archaeological monuments, historic buildings and sculptures, and to promote access and reuse through Europeana. The Irish content ranges from wider cultural landscapes to smaller ornately carved stones and includes a wide range of chronological periods: from Brú na Bóinne Neolithic rock art from 2500 BC to Derry's 17th-century fortifications.

The primary digitisation methods include airborne laser scanning (ALS), phase-based terrestrial laser scanning (Faro Focus 3D) and close range structured light scanning (Artec EVA). These are now mainstream approaches for surveying historic landscapes, structures and objects, generating precise, high-resolution point cloud data. The challenge was to convert these complex high-volume data sets into textured 3D models, retaining the geometric integrity of the original data whilst reducing the overall file size of the model to enable delivery and use via the Internet. The paper highlights the development of a pipeline to produce a lightweight 3D WebGL model which enables the public to interact with a photorealistic model based upon accurate survey and texture data utilising the Sketchfab web service.

3D-ICONS ended in January 2015, but a website 3dicons.ie was designed to offer continued access to the Irish 3D models and the associated content generated during the project. The website was launched by the Heather Humphries TD, Minister of Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht, with coverage on the national TV news and online media. In the months that followed the value of this 3D resource became apparent through a diverse range of activities either directly using the site, or inspired by the content. This paper will focus on these developments, explain how they arose and how we hope they will develop in the future.

Public engagement – Website traffic has fluctuated with spikes reflecting promotion or publicity, but generally at the level of 50 engagements per day through the 3dicons.ie website and varying levels of use of the 3D models directly through Sketchfab, with the most viewed models having an audience of 5000 users.

Education – Two separate school's initiatives were brought to our attention where teachers had found the resource and embedded it in their teaching. A Junior Certificate teacher was using the models, information and images to support History lessons, projecting the website onto a screen. Another teacher, the History of Art this time, asked pupils to use the 3D content on the website as inspiration to create their own physical art pieces. Following these ad hoc initiatives, our Outreach Officer opened dialogue with teachers' institutions gaining feedback on how 3dicons.ie could be improved or adapted to better fit the curriculum and become a formal teaching resource. During the initial promotion of the project, the models were given the accolade of 'Resource of the Week' by Scoilnet, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) official portal for Irish education.

Recently contact was made with the BBC Research and Education Space (RES) programme to promote access and reuse of the content through linked open data (LOD).

Tourism – The agency managing heritage sites in Ireland, the Office of Public Works (OPW) saw great potential in our 3D models to improve the visitor experience, particularly where public access is limited or restricted. With this in mind, a collaborative pilot project has been initiated with OPW to develop an immersive 3D experience of the great mound at Knowth in the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. Both passages are closed to the public, being too narrow and potentially hazardous to allow access; visitors on tours can only get a tantalising glimpse through locked iron gates. The project aims to recreate the passages in a 3D virtual experience, based on 3D-ICONS data, giving visitors a sense of what it is like to walk and crawl through these remarkable passages to the cruciform chambers.

The content of the project is also being utilised by Fáilte Ireland for their new tourism initiative: Ireland's Ancient East (IAE), which aims to package and brand the cultural heritage of Ireland's east coast as a potential draw to tourists.

Commercialisation – The 3D models are also beginning to be seen as an asset with a commercial value from diverse sources. Approaches have been made from a number of companies who have offered to provide a 3D printing service for our models for which a licence fee would be paid per model printed. Further monetisation options have been explored in meetings with the Irish Film Board looking at the value of 3D content in pre-production planning and post-production visual effects.

Conservation science – All the sites and monuments documented by the 3D-ICONS project were surveyed to a high standard, with resolution and accuracy appropriate to the scale of the object. This original data has the potential to be an extremely valuable resource in the maintenance, care and conservation of sites and monuments. Cloud comparison software can not only detect but also quantify even subtle change if sites are re-surveyed in the future.

Academic research – Data gathered primarily for 3D-ICONS has already fed into academic research, being actively used by the Digital Replica Project, a collaborative project with UCD School of Archaeology. A module of this project is planning to use the original full data gathered for 3D ICONS and compare this with modelled scan data of 19th-century moulds and casts to see what we can learn about the production process and what has happened to the originals and replicas in the intervening years. In addition, several Universities have requested data for postgraduate research projects.

The paper shows how exposing the 3D content can open a wide and varied range of applications, adding huge value to a rich data resource initially gathered as part of a focused European research project. This model of capture once and reuse many times makes the investment in high quality 3D data a more economically attractive proposition.

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