Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Q&A with Daniel Pett from the British Museum (Part 2)

February 15, 2017

🍵 4 mins to read (suggested)

Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight_, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections.

Today’s blog post features Daniel Pett’s effort to make the collections of the_ British Museum accessible for anyone in 3D and VR.

This article is part II of our Q&A with Daniel Pett, the Senior Digital Humanities Manager at the British Museum. The British Museum has published 143 models on Sketchfab.

Daniel now gives us his feedback on his experiences, but also explains how Sketchfab helps him to showcase the British Museum’s wonderful artefacts.

4/ Was it easy when you began? Were they any barriers to entry?

Learning the basic technique was quite easy, as I learnt from Andy Bevan and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert’s excellent tutorial documentation they wrote for MicroPasts. I then learnt more from practising the skills and from working alongside Thomas Flynn. As mentioned earlier the biggest barrier to doing this was time! There’s not enough time and with my young family and work commitments it is hard to fit it all in.

I’m still learning and there’s always something to improve on with every model I make. Different software might improve my output, better masking etc. This is one reason why I place all my raw photos and masks on to GitHub so that someone can improve on my amateur skills and have the chance to participate in reproducible science.

5/ Is it easier now?

I’d say it is probably easier now that I know how to do certain things or capture images in the best way for what I want to do. It is still hard! I’d like more time, more computing power and some decent cameras.

6/ What are the Sketchfab features that you think are the most useful for your models?

Going back to the MicroPasts project, we built an opensource 3D viewer which we had intended for viewing our models. It created quite an overhead in support and development and was never as good as the commercial viewers we saw. There are other open source viewers, however, we believe that large reach and exposure of our work was vital for that project to succeed, so we made a decision to start sharing our models on Sketchfab. When you see the size of the network that uses Sketchfab, the decision to produce content for there is easy!

Benefits that we could glean (and this goes for BM work too and indeed any cultural institution) are:

  • Embeddable content in a variety of platforms (HTML and social media for instance)
  • Customisable viewing environment, one can deploy branded backgrounds if required
  • Powerful editing tools
  • Download settings, with licence selection
  • View counts, commenting and a different social network to build.
  • Mobile device ready

The Sketchfab interface is generally great, but there are things we have always wished were there, for example measuring tools (which Sketchfab’s dev team have now released, thank you!), scales, ability to create better metadata (maybe from a markdown file that you upload). However, we do realise that we (the cultural sector) are not the only users. You cannot build everything people request. In terms of long term repository for archiving 3D data, we don’t see the Sketchfab platform as to be and end all – for us, it is a presentation layer. We and others need to consider best practices for storing their 3D output and source materials. At the moment, raw data and STL models that I create are being stored on our GitHub profile.

7/ What goal do you achieve in creating all these models? How is it consistent with the British Museum digital strategy?

The goal of creating these models has several aspects for me; firstly to demonstrate that there is a need for this work to be done and that it might create employment in the future for someone; secondly to maintain our position as a museum that might try to push boundaries; thirdly for personal satisfaction, that I can create something that others might find interesting (and allowing me to learn a new skill) and fourthly for my colleagues to make use of them.

At present, our BM digital strategy is not published in the public domain, so I cannot reference it easily; however the generation of 3D data fits in firmly with the Digital Humanities plan that I am writing and is a fundamental basis of the digitisation strand. We are now expected to produce high resolution digital assets for public and professional consumption and reuse, 3D allows one to capture static images at the same time. In many ways, there’s a natural place for 3D imagery to sit, within our photography team who produce amazing work, but as yet don’t have the staffing capacity to create models.

In terms of Head of Digital’s vision for the museum of the future, 3D fits in well with his tenets of reach, mobile and revenue. As described earlier, we can use 3D to push BM content to potentially huge audiences via the Sketchfab embed mechanism on social media which satisfies the reach agenda. The Sketchfab mobile ready engine allows us to push the content out to mobile devices (on site this could be to museum hardware used at present for the multimedia guides or personal devices and offsite to daily mobile browsing.) The third tenet, revenue is just starting to make waves with some experimental work going on with ThinkSee3D and our image licensing arm (BM Images) starting to license our 3D for commercial publishing.

Thanks again for sharing, Daniel! Stay tuned for Part 3 of this Q&A next week.

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