Looking from All Angles: Photogrammetry in CMA Interactives

In June 2019, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) iterative, rotating gallery, ArtLens Exhibition, reopened with 21 new artworks, including 15 3-D objectsfrom across the museum’s permanent collection. For each 3D object in the space, a gesture-based 3D viewer was added to the ArtLens Exhibition’s existing touch-free, motion-sensing interactives. This allows visitors to zoom and manipulate projected 3-D models to see all angles of an object. These 3D models are also available to visitors via the museum’s Collection Online, and in Sketchfab extending the benefit of this explorative tool beyond the museum’s walls. Through CMA’s Open Access Initiative, all public domain models are published with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which offers access to our 3D models for any purpose, including reproduction with 3-D printers, so that the modeled objects can be reused, remixed, and reproduced in any formatall without asking permission or giving attribution.

Two visitors looking at a projected 3-D model. One controls the model via-gesture
Visitors use gesture to explore 3-D models

This project is an extension of the goals of ARTLENS; to remove barriers to entry and invite visitors from all backgrounds to connect with the collection in meaningful ways. By allowing interaction with these objects outside of the display case, we are offering visitors opportunity to explore artworks in the collection like never before – digitally maneuvering them to see the tops, bottoms, and insides while discovering details that would otherwise be hidden

A visitor, arm outstretched, interacts with the projected 3-D model of a Greek amphora
A visitor interacts with a 3-D model through gesture-based, projection interactives in the ArtLens Exhibition

CMA’s  3-D models were created inhouse using photogrammetry, method that combines photographic imaging with the metrics of scale to map the surface details of an object onto a 3D modelThe process is complexrequiring numerous, overlapping photos to be precisely documented and digitally woven together. To fill the ArtLens Exhibition CMA selected an array of objects, at varying sizes and levels of complexity. In the process of documenting certain artworks, we discovered the challenge and lack of precedent for effectively capturing reflective and intricately detailed objects. To conquer the particularly challenging objects CMA worked with Dale Utt, of True Edge Archivea photogrammetry specialist who works mainly with medieval armor.  

a small 3-D rendered model of a Greek amphora, surrounded by blue squares which form a sphere
A graphic representation of the photogrammetry process – photographs are taken from multiple camera angles, represented here by the blue squares, then stitched together digitally

Since the release of the models in summer 2019, we have seen high levels of engagement from the public both on-site in the ArtLens Exhibition, and in our online collectionCMA’s 3-D models are hosted on Sketchfaban online platform that hosts content from millions of creators, opening access to the broadest possible audience. CMA is continuing to experiment in the world of photogrammetry. In addition to the 15 models created for the summer 2019 launch of the ARTLENS Gallery, there are now 12 additional models available to visitors via the museum’s Collection OnlineWe plan to continue expanding our collection of 3-D models and add to this initiative in the future.

A visitor, in the foreground, manipulates a projected 3-D model using gesture
A visitor uses gesture to interact with a 3-D model of the object in the ArtLens Exhibition


a brown terra-cotta piggy-bank sits on a pedestal in a display case
Piggy Bank (1980.16) on display in the ArtLens Exhibition alongside other works of art


a white 3-D printed model of a piggy bank sculpture, resting on a black office chair
A 3-D printed model of Piggy Bank, created using the CC0 model created by CMA, hosted on Sketchfab

Special thanks on this project go to Howard Agriesti, chief photographer at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Dale Utt of True Edge Archive.