Modeling the Past

Kami Ahrens


Recent developments in technology have sparked new methods for preserving and presenting the past.  High-ranking institutions such as the Smithsonian Instituted have integrated photogrammetric modeling as part of their online collections.  Inspired by these, and similar, efforts, my project endeavors to increase access to and awareness of the Steamboat Bertrand collection, located at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri Valley, Iowa.  Using photogrammetric modeling and an open source digital host, I will arrange representative artifacts into a digital exhibit which explores concepts of domesticity on the nineteenth century frontier.

But what is photogrammetric modeling? A theoretically simple process that can quickly become complex.  This form of modeling consists of photographic sequences of an object or landscape that are then entered into a pre-fabricated program such as Agisoft Photoscan.  The program then aligns the photos, ideally in a sphere, which serve as the data set for a point cloud, wireframe, and eventually 3D mesh.  The digital product can be hosted online or incorporated into various formats of digital projects (see Sketchfab for examples).  The models have innumerable benefits, from preservation of the artifact to public engagement.


However, as I have learned, creating models is never a smooth process.  Taking good data is the most important step, but there may be inherent qualities within an object that do not lend themselves to the process.  For example, glass bottles are generally avoided as photogrammetry candidates because the software has trouble recognizing a transparent object.  Reflectivity also creates an issue and generally results in misalignment or incorrect texturing of a model.  Working through some of these problems, however, is all part of the learning experience.  However, it will direct my artifact selection choices, leaving some objects such as the hundreds of bottles from the Bertrand to remain digitally preserved in photographs alone.


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