Exploring 3D technologies at the BPMA

The last 12 months have been exciting for the Digital team here at the BPMA. Our Share Academy/London Museums Group funded project, From Vault to View, which partnered us with Mona Hess from UCL’s Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering Department, has given us both a lot to do and to think about. The project has now come to an end, but it has increased the knowledge we now have of 3D technologies, and encouraged us to do much more.

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George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

The aim of the project was to test different methods of capturing objects in 3D. Working with our little-viewed objects, Mona tried a variety of techniques to see what would produce good 3D models and what wouldn’t. The objects chosen posed real challenges: many were made of bright metals, which makes them difficult to capture using laser scanning or photogrammetry techniques; some were complex shapes, such as a flintlock pistol; while others had such a lack of detail making them difficult to measure and recreate as 3D computer models.

So what did we get out of it? Before the project we knew very little about how 3D

imaging worked. We felt the buzz around these technologies, such as 3D printing, but had little idea of how these things were created or how they might be used. All we really knew was that we had a rich treasure of 3D objects that no-one could really access physically in a satisfactory way.

By the end of the project, the BPMA had purchased photogrammetry software which has enabled us to try 3D imaging for ourselves – and the results are extremely promising. These techniques can be learnt by our staff and employed to create 3D models of items in the museum collection for exploration by the public.

This new-found knowledge, though still fairly elementary, has given us confidence to explore other uses for 3D imaging. In December 3D experts, ScanLab Projects, spent a week scanning the work depot, platforms and tunnels of Mail Rail which we will be opening to the public in 2016 as part of our plans for The Postal Museum. The results are truly astounding and we hope to show them in the near future.

Scanner capturing Mount Pleasant platform

Scanner capturing Mount Pleasant platform

Beyond all this, the project has given us an opportunity to revisit the objects and see them afresh. Although we weren’t able to obtain good 3D models of objects such as the large printing plates and the rollers, we did get excellent images of a number of dies using a technique known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging [RTI]. We also obtained an excellent laser-scanned 3D model of the Machin cast of Queen Elizabeth II – a truly unique and iconic object. The fruits of these experiments will eventually be made available via our website and online catalogue as we integrate the technology.

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

-Martin Devereux, Head of Digital

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