Scanning our artworks to make 3D models with ScanTheWorld

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Posted 19th April 2022

Our Collection and Exhibitions team recently welcomed ScanTheWorld to the Historic Galleries to help create 3D models of some of our objects.

ScanTheWorld shares our Art for All by All outlook, and works with museums and local communities around the world to develop free 3D models of objects and artworks in museum collections. These are available for anyone to view, download, and remix as a ‘museum without walls.’

Jon from ScanTheWorld wrote after the visit, ‘Digitising the collection at Watts Gallery in 3D sparks interest to consume the rich heritage at the museum in a novel, tangible way. Similarly to traditional casts being used to democratise artefacts, sharing digital copies of works enables a global community to engage creatively and critically with each other.’


Ahead of our exhibition, G F Watts & Sculpture: A Fragmented Legacy, curated by Dr Stacey Clapperton, we have partnered with ScanTheWorld to develop open-access 3D models of some of our objects. These will be available to download, remix, print, or study, and we can use them at the Gallery to produce models for visitors to handle. These are especially useful for our visitors with visual impairments and for student groups.

Once any of the objects have been scanned and processed into 3D models, they can be printed using a range of methods, even printing reversed moulds so casts can be made in plaster or clay! These models will bring the works of art to a wider audience around the world who can explore the three-dimensional collections. The team even scanned one of the historic frames in the gallery, so visitors can handle a replica without risking the antique frames or paintings.

Members of the Curatorial team helped Jonathan Beck and Elisa D’Antonio scan objects in the galleries. Jon and Elisa explained the process to us, which uses a hand-held Artec3D Eva scanner that emits beams of light onto the surfaces of objects. They use photogrammetry, where hundreds of photographic images from the scanner are stitched together in the computer to make a 3D model. The accuracy can vary based on the kind of surface and lighting conditions, but usually this is accurate to a single micron. For comparison, a sheet of printer paper is about 100 microns thick! Dull, non-reflective surfaces in even lighting work best, so plaster objects like Aurora or Nemesis scan very well.

We took turns operating the scanner to scan Aurora, the largest object we scanned, and Medusa, which was Watts’s first attempt at carving. We also scanned the bronze Clytie, the seated nude figure (Nemesis), and a Compton Pottery terracotta angel memorial. Jon and Elisa managed to scan the Compton figure in one go!

Jon and Elisa then took the data back to ScanTheWorld and processed the files to make usable models. I have used the Clytie model to make a gif, but the possibilities are endless!

This is hopefully the start of a longer project with ScanTheWorld! Jon and Elisa were excited by Limnerslease and the Chapel along with Watts’s sculptures. We hope to even scan Mary Watts’s ceiling panels in Limnerslease and parts of the Watts Cemetery Chapel.

We can’t wait to have ScanTheWorld back onsite to make more models and bring George and Mary’s work to an even wider audience in new ways.

Author: Dr Melissa L Gustin, Collection Online Early Career Research Fellow (Mythological Subjects)


Discover the 3D models: