China through the Magnifying Glass: Masterpieces in Miniature and Detail, digital technology reveals the exquisite detail of 10 objects at all angles on a display screen with magnitude larger than the objects themselves. Since there are more than one hundred miniatures in the exhibition, the 3-D models focus on delightful and surprising moments on the objects’ planes and facets that might not be visible in a traditional gallery setting. The 10 objects were selected for photogrammetry as representatives of the wide range of purposes, time periods, and artistic styles exhibited, as well as for materials and details that can be more easily examined in this larger digital element.
The 3-D models are elegantly animated with guiding captions that point out unique vantage points that might be impossible or difficult to discover without handling the objects. The animation zooms in on the intricacies of each artwork, maneuvering them in space, connecting viewers to the carefully wrought hidden details that might otherwise be obscured if the object were in a case or on a shelf. Viewers can discover markings on the base of a vase, a creature only visible on the back of an object, and a miniscule inscription. Within a seemingly minute detail, meaning, intention, and process are revealed.
In the digital element, the modeled objects on-screen also point visitors to nuances or symbolism, like the significance of a bat used as decoration on a stopper. In addition, the 10 models created for China through the Magnifying Glass are available for individual exploration online at cma.org/miniatures, where the objects can be examined, enlarged, and turned freely. Explore before arriving or in person with a smartphone.
These 3-D models were created with photogrammetry, a way to visually represent real-world objects with a level of meticulousness that fits the fine details of these objects. The method combines photographic imaging with the metrics of scale to show both the shape and the texture of an object with a high level of photorealism. The process starts in the CMA’s photo studio, where a photographer takes a series of overlapping photographs capturing every part of the object several times. Those images are then fed into a 3-D software program, which, after a series of steps, produces the 3-D model. This is then taken through postprocessing, conducted by a photogrammetry specialist to clean up and perfect the details to make the model replicate the object with a high level of accuracy.
With a track record of more than a decade of digital transformation, the CMA has invested in iterative, mindful digital initiatives that expand access and connect people to the collection. A major facet of their success is the digitization of the collection, which stands at 98% and is critical to major projects like the comprehensive Open Access initiative that allows the public to share, collaborate, remix, and reuse high-resolution images of more than half of the collection. In addition, the digitized collection has been the launchpad for audience-centered web-based collection tool sets such as ArtLens AI and ArtLens for Slack and for interactives in ARTLENS Gallery.
Photogrammetry augments the projects enabled by digitization. Three-dimensional models add value to research conducted by conservators and curators, preserve objects, and make it easy to view and handle objects that are large, delicate, or complex. As part of the museum’s newest strategic plan, the CMA is expanding its holding of digital assets like these, which are vital for future initiatives. The museum is focused on using new technology to create innovative experiences that help bring art to life, including but not limited to forays into the metaverse for education and entertainment, increased access to resources on repositories across the web, and future immersive exhibitions. We’ve seen that photogrammetry facilitates engagement with the collection in ARTLENS Gallery, on Collection Online, and in immersive exhibitions like Revealing Krishna. In the next five years, we hope to have one thousand 3-D assets in the collection to expand and iterate on these initiatives.
Photogrammetry has been featured in ARTLENS Gallery since 2019, and you can explore more artworks in 3-D in the adjacent Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery. In the ArtLens Exhibition, projected interactive games use gesture sensing that responds seamlessly to body movement and facial recognition for an immersive experience. In each gesture-based game, all projected 3-D artworks can be rotated and viewed at all angles. Explore all the models on Collection Online at cma.org/collection by selecting the 3-D icon on the artwork pages or by filtering by “In 3-D.”