Behind The Scenes of Our Custom 3D Visualization Projects

Would you consider yourself to be a 3D scanning ninja? Or is this new territory for you? Over the years we have worked with institutions of various sizes, with different skill sets, resources, and budgets. From established digital media departments to single enthusiasts. No matter how far you have come on your digital journey, one fact remains – digitization is here to stay. 3D digitization and interactive visualization have now become integral parts of today’s cultural heritage collections management and it enables us to study, preserve and share our history like never before, both inside and out.

At Interspectral we offer custom projects using 3D visualization to help you unlock the secrets hidden within your collection. By utilizing our in-house developed software and expertise, we can offer a pathway to new discoveries and a framework for sharing these discoveries with the public. We have seen 3D scans reveal astonishing (can’t-believe-my-eyes) details that do not show on the physical object exterior. Our interactive Inside Explorer multi-touch exhibits have had visitors running back and forth between the physical exhibit and its digital twin with fascination and wonder.

In the spirit of unlocking knowledge, we invite you behind the scenes of our custom production process. You will discover that what might seem a mysterious process is actually quite straightforward and described in six simple steps: Identify Interesting Objects, Digitize Objects, Evaluate Data, Produce 3D Visualization, Create a Story, and Exhibit Final 3D Visualization. Let’s dig deeper.

1. Identify Interesting Object

We truly believe that the dustiest of storerooms could be unique treasure trove, and even the smallest museums could potentially uncover the biggest discoveries. As Mary Poppins once sang: “For a cover is nice, but the cover is not the book “.

Identifying the right objects to scan is where it all starts. Your collection is sure to be full of items ready to be taken of the shelves and put it in the hands of the visitors. Take the Spy Pen, at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, for example. Created to look like just another pen on the outside (naturally) but reveals a thrilling adventure of spy-craft and exquisite design detail on the inside. A window into the history of the cold war, world of espionage and spy technology.

Spy Pen. International Spy Museum, Washington DC, United States

Here are some more examples from our previous projects for inspiration:

  • Mummies: For more than 10 years, our team has visualized and brought numerous mummies to life. Mummies are extraordinary keepers of the past and looking behind the wrappings for the first time in over 2000 years is a memorable and humbling experience. CT scans can reveal crucial information about the person beneath the mask such as sex, age, status and health, but most significantly they tell a story of their lives. Frequently we discover surprising and wonderful things, as they give up their secrets.
  • Specimens in natural history collections: Curating a natural history collection requires a non-destructive approach since every item is valuable and unique. We have worked with museums to visualize meteorites, insects in amber, seeds, nuts, plants, and all kinds of mammals. Think of an object that you have always wanted to open up if you could.
  • Fossils: 3D scanning lets paleontologists uncover the tiniest details, while preserving the whole. A physical bone on display or in storage may not seem to hide anything, but with Inside Explorer, visitors get to investigate structures that tell a whole new story. Just imagine a child’s wonder on discovering that Mammoth tusks have annual growth rings inside, just like the trees outside.
  • What about buildings? Based on archaeological reports we reconstructed the history of Linköping Castle in 3D and visualized all building phases from the 12th century to the 21st century. Today’s representation of the castle was captured using photogrammetry and drone footage. The fires in Notre Dame has us all now thinking about the importance with capturing buildings in 3D – while we still can.
  • What ongoing or future projects do you have, and do you have items that will help convey your message? What objects could enhance the overall experience and boost learning? What stories could lie inside?

2. Digitize Object

In every visualization project we encounter researchers, archaeologists, curators, and exhibit managers, ready to channel their virtual inner Indiana Jones. The adventure begins with the transformation from physical to digital. We work with the combination of surface scan data and volumetric data (e.g. CT or microCT scans), which makes it possible to capture not only the exterior but the complete interior of objects and create a photo-realistic digital twin.

For those who don’t yet have any data or access to scanning equipment, we can arrange, through a network of partners worldwide, access to 3D volumetric scanning using technologies such as medical CT, MRI, industrial Micro-CT. Different materials and sizes of objects require different scanning methods and thanks to years of experience, we have learnt to navigate this landscape and can confidently guide our customers through this process. 

If you have already acquired and possess interesting 3D scan data, we can help you evaluate! We have experienced that many of our projects start with visualizing historical scans from previous research projects. We can transform these “dusty” data files into interactive 3D visualizations that adds true incremental value.

3. Evaluate Data

At this stage, once we have captured the object in a digital form and accessed data from the scanning, our production team sits down and evaluates the quality and suitability of the data. We work with you to determine whether it has the potential to create a viable project and has the scope for a compelling narrative. It’s also at this moment we have seen some genuine AHA-moments, examining digital objects in the Inside Explorer software for the first time, sometimes leading to highly significant discoveries, that have gone viral across the global news network. You never know what you are going to find!

Here is a great example. Once evaluating data of a CT scanned Egyptian crocodile mummy for Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden one of our visualization gurus spotted some suspected “scanning defects” surrounding the two large crocodile bodies inside. After taking a closer look he realized that this “junk data” was actually 47 baby crocodiles wrapped together in the exterior bindings of palm rope!

Typically, during this discovery process, we explore the data together with subject matter experts in the field, either from the museum itself, or through our network.

4. Produce 3D visualization– Making the Invisible Visible

This is where we start the real transformation from complex data into interactive 3D visualizations using the specially developed Interspectral exhibit authoring tools: Inside Explorer PRO (IE PRO). This software toolkit enables us to open most 3D formats, colourize, and segment volumetric data in real-time. In addition to our state-of-the-art production tools, we have a talented production team with more than 20 years of visualization experience.

In the production stage each dataset is treated in its own way. The timeframe for visualizing 3D scan data depends on the quality and resolution of the scans and the character of the object. It could be anything from days to months depending on the size of the project and the stories that can be told from the data.

5. Create a story

Time to spread the word. Up to this point, we have worked alongside the customer and bounced ideas back and forth through digitization, evaluation, and 3D production. It is time to craft the exhibit that will be shown in our interactive software, Inside Explorer. Together we work with your interpretation team on a narrative and annotations that will guide the users through the 3D visualizations and the exhibit as whole. The story and messaging differ between every project, and it’s not unusual that discoveries made during the evaluation phase lead the way.

Take this visualization of a 5000-year-old mummy in the British Museum, for example, which became an unexpected murder mystery. A cut in Gebelein man’s skin over his left shoulder blade didn’t look like much from the outside, but the Inside Explorer visualization, along with the expertise of the museum’s curators, revealed that a sharp pointed weapon had penetrated the underlying shoulder blade, most likely leading to his untimely death. While the mummy had lain in the museum for over 100 years, it was only this digital exploration that led to this amazing discovery. Gebelein Man’s story can now be explored in a permanent digital exhibit, next to his body, in Room 64 at the British Museum.

Vivid images and menu backgrounds in 2D help set the mood and support the storytelling. If you don’t have a design team on speed dial, our production team happen to be great designers and listeners. They will convert your concept ideas and vision into beautiful graphics.

6. Exhibit final 3D visualization – making the inaccessible accessible

Time for the final 3D visualization to see the light of day and invite people of all ages to join in on the adventure. When exhibited in Inside Explorer, visitors will finally be able to touch, zoom, rotate, cut and peel away layers to explore the mysterious inside of your chosen subject and take part in the discovery.

We offer different ways to exhibit the final 3D visualization. For those looking to boost the in-gallery experience with digital enhancement our turnkey touch-table solution is a real showstopper. Inside Explorer’s interactive features come to live in that scale, and the smallest details seem grand.

The turnkey solution is delivered directly to your doorstep and all you need to do is switch it on. For those who already have suitable hardware onsite, you can just order software and content production. With whichever solution, we are here to support you all the way.

We can also offer laptop licences for outreach programs and soon, streaming services to support online engagement.

3D prints could make your collection even more accessible and tangible. Together with The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities, we 3D printed two coffins and a falcon amulet located together with the bandages surrounding the body of the Egyptian Mummy priest Neswaiu.

Digital is dynamic.

One of the perks of digital exhibits and 3D visualizations is that they can be repurposed and updated. Just because you found your golden nugget and your visitors are head over heels, doesn’t mean that the adventure must end. Chances are there is another rare gem hiding inside your collection. Should we go and find it together?


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