Inside the Collection

3D scanning Icons from the MAAS Collection

Visitors to the recently opened Icons exhibition will notice two large screens installed in one of the title walls, featuring rotating 3D models of objects from the exhibition.

The screens invite visitors to “touch and explore” the 3D models. The models feature highlight spots, and when touched each spot triggers a particular view of the object accompanied by a curator’s expert insights into its materiality and significance.

Visitors can touch a screen to zoom in, rotate and examine the objects at their own pace – using gestures similar to a smartphone.

This project for Icons is the Museum’s first 3D scanned interactive within a gallery space. It is also an important step in the Museum’s ongoing digitisation efforts, of which 3D scanning is likely to play a growing part.


Why 3D scanning?

3D digitisation has a range of potential applications in the museum space. 3D models can offer visitors new ways to access and explore our collection, and aid conservation. 3D models can be used in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) learning experiences, and facilitate 3D printing.

Space constraints also limit how much of the collection is on display at any time, and 3D technology offers new ways to make more of the collection accessible to the public within and outside the Museum.

Digitisation is also an important consideration in the planning for a new museum in Parramatta. Moving the collection to a new site offers a rare opportunity to digitise our objects as a step in the process – and this let us get our hands dirty and understand more about technology available in this space.

Photograph of 3D Interactive Touchscreens
The 3D interactive touchscreens installed in the Icons exhibition


How did we do it?

The Icons 3D screens are the result of a collaboration between MAAS and two partner organisations – UTS’s Perceptual Imaging Laboratory and CSIRO Data61. UTS provided the scanning expertise to create the high resolution 3D models, and CSIRO Data61 developed the software to display the models in the exhibition.

The 3D models in Icons were developed using a technique called structured light scanning. This scanning method can generate 3D models with complex geometry and textures.

The MAAS team that worked on the project included staff from Digital, Curatorial, Conservation and Registration, Media Technology, and Exhibitions.

Photograph of James Tawadros scanning Samurai Armour
James Tawadros from UTS scanning the Samurai Armour


What’s next?
3D Scanning is just the beginning – it’s what the scans are used for that really shows the potential of this technology.

Imagine students being able to view and walk around 3D holograms of objects from the MAAS collection within their classroom, or a designer being able to look at an object from any angle or download a copy of the model to use in their work. Imagine being able to digitally restore and ‘augment’ a machine with missing parts, or see it come alive as an animated 3D model. Now imagine all of these things being possible for anybody, regardless of how remotely they live.

All of these things are either possible today, or have scientists actively researching ways to make them a reality. So as interesting as 3D scanning is, it’s what it could be used for in the near future that’s truly exciting.

By Arul Baskaran

Find out more about the Icons exhibition:
Icons: from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection

2 responses to “3D scanning Icons from the MAAS Collection

  • Fabulous technology, and I have a question.

    As an avid collector of Victorian clothing I have a few once magnificent pieces that are badly damaged and I was wondering will 3 D ever be able to recreate a Victorian ball gown? or recreate the fabric it was made of?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.