Tools and Expertise for 3D Collection Formation

Project Details


Led by the University of Brighton, the 3D-COFORM project brought digital innovation to museum and heritage artefacts allowing for advances in sophisticated digital reproduction of three-dimensional objects.

It was established to advance the state-of-the-art in 3D-digitisation and make 3D-documentation available as a practical choice for digital documentation campaigns in the cultural heritage sector.

3D-COFORM could therefore incorporate an ambitious programme of technical research, coupled with research in the business of 3D so as to inform and accelerate the deployment of these technologies in the heritage sector. A prestigious consortium of 19 partners was formed combining specialists in 3D-digitisation, cultural heritage organisations and business practitioners.

In 2008 the problem of matching 3D shapes to find a 3D object “similar” to a given one was not yet convincingly solved. The most promising approach was to analyse and encode shape characteristics in feature vectors (shape descriptors), enabling fast comparison of objects. In 2008 visualisation systems in cultural heritage had reused generic 3D rendering engines or browsers, which was unsatisfactory since it ignored needs specific to cultural heritage. A paradigmatic shift in the way art research is performed and presented was being anticipated with a shift from paper-based to digital tools, integrating all sources and using the 3D model as the interactive visual index.

The 3D-COFORM consortium had one over-riding aim: to establish 3D documentation as an affordable, practical and effective mechanism for long term documentation of tangible cultural heritage. In order to make this happen the consortium was highly conscious that both the state of the art in 3D digitisation and the practical aspects of deployment in the sector must be addressed. Hence 3D-COFORM proposed an ambitious program of technical research, coupled with practical exercises and research in the business of 3D to inform and accelerate the deployment of these technologies to good effect.

The project addressed the integration of all stages of the workflow involved in such a campaign and in the subsequent use of digital assets in research and dissemination to the public and professional alike.

A typical workflow involves planning: 3D-capture; 3D-processing to produce complete models, provenance, and the incorporation of associated metadata; a suitable repository infrastructure for the artefacts, complete with search and browse tools, long-term preservation tools and viewer; analysis and presentation tools; integration with other sources (textual and other media).

A strong technical research program was complemented by research into practical aspects for cultural enterprises: business models for exploitation of 3D assets, workflow planning and execution for mass digitisation, socio-economic impact assessment; the creation of a Virtual Centre of Competence in 3D digitisation and the validation of educational processes to develop future capacity. The VCC-3D was designed to act as a catalyst in enhancing the sector’s capacity for mass digitisation of 3D assets – the tangible artefacts of the physical cultural heritage of the world.

The 3D-COFORM consortium brought together 19 partners to form a world class team on 3D-digitisation complemented by an equally prestigious group of Cultural Heritage organizations, with the Victoria and Albert Museum as a full partner and collaborations with the Louvre Museum, the Florentine Museums authority, World Heritage Sites in Cyprus, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Brussels Museum of History and Art, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin amongst others.

The consortium also contained organisations tasked at a national level with helping museums move in these directions: CNRS-LC2RMF, the research arm of the French National Museums and CultNat the digitisation body for cultural and natural heritage funded by the Egyptian Government. The combination in 3D-COFORM of research and take-up activities through deployment experiments, training and demonstration, has contributed distinctively to contribute to European 3D-digitisation capability and to reinforcing the objectives of the European initiative on digital libraries and its flagship project Europeana (European Digital Library) to develop 3D capability.

Key findings

3D-COFORM’s impact fell under two broad categories

> the impact from partners continuing to exploit their results in further research and sector engagement, and
> the impact achieved through spin-off activities such as the Virtual Competence Centre in 3D CIC Ltd (VCC-3D).

3D-COFORM recognised that public presentations, both in museums and over the internet, are important distribution channels for the digital assets produced by the project’s tools and through them for raising awareness of the tools and their underpinning technologies. Consequently, they are of strategic value, and providing high-end 3D-exhibits will stimulate demand for content and promotes understanding of 3D-COFORM technologies. The approach taken has therefore placed emphasis on mounting a public exhibition and then re-using the materials generated there in a program of public events, designed to further public and professional understanding of the potential of 3D technologies in the heritage field.

The Virtual Competence Centre in 3D CIC Ltd (VCC-3D) is a non-profit Community Interest Company established in the UK and is designed to provide the cultural heritage sector with advice, services, training and consultancy in the practical deployment of 3D digitisation at all stages of capturing and processing 3D artefacts, from documentation, through analysis and visualisation in the cultural heritage sector. This UK-based operation is able to operate internationally but it is also envisaged that similar organisational units, based with partners in other countries, may be more effective for legal and cultural reasons in achieving the objectives of the VCC-3D and would operate through collaborative arrangements with the VCC-3D.
Short title3D Coform
Effective start/end date1/09/0820/09/13


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