Co-Producing a 3D Imaging Programme at Derby Museums

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In this Cultural Heritage & History Spotlight, Assistant Curator of Making Eilish Clohessy shares the many beneficial outcomes of working with talented & dedicated volunteers to co-produce 3D documentation of artefacts from Derby Museums’ collections…

Hello Sketchfab! I’m Eilish Clohessy, the Assistant Curator of Making at Derby Museums. My role is made up of many different parts, from more traditional curatorial duties such as collections care and exhibitions to some slightly less traditional roles, from textiles programming to furniture making. However, what I’m going to be writing about today is my role within the team that leads on digital development for Derby Museums, ensuring it’s embedded in all our projects where a need has been identified. In particular, I lead on 3D imaging for the Silk Mill Project.

Eilish 3D scanning in the public space

The Museum of Making

To give a little bit of background, Derby Silk Mill is situated on the site of world’s first factory (built in 1721) and also acts as the southern gateway of UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. In September 2017 the Trust was successful in securing a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which, along with funding from a number of other sources including Arts Council England, has allowed us to begin realising our plan to transform the Silk Mill into the Museum of Making. We have three themes which have governed our approach so far and will continue to do so into our delivery phase:

  • Inspired By The Makers Of The Past: we will tell the stories of Derby’s history of making, locally made and globally significant, through the objects in our collections and the people who made them.
  • Made By The Makers Of Today: we will achieve this by actively involving the community in making the museum itself and re-introducing manufacturing to the site of the world’s first factory.
  • Empowering The Makers Of The Future: through learning and engagement programs that are linked to Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths (STEAM), we hope to ignite ambition in our young people to aspire to STEAM careers and fill skills gaps of local manufacturing industries.

One of our young volunteers getting to grips with the scanner.

Derby is UK’s no.1 high tech city, employing 12% of its population in advanced engineering jobs at companies such as locomotive manufacturer Bombardier, Rolls-Royce, JCB and Toyota. To support the development of a skilled civic population, the Museum of Making stays current with the cutting edge of technology used in making today. We use this knowledge to upskill staff, volunteers and members of the public in areas such as carpentry, engineering and computer aided design. By introducing 3D imaging to this list, we were able to intertwine our use of new technologies with our collections, which allows us to interpret our objects in new ways.

This is especially important for the Museum of Making as we are exploring new, innovative ways of displaying our collections to help facilitate our plan to increase the number of objects on display in the building from 4% to 100%.

Museum of Making concept design

It is also a way for our collections to have a global reach, with just under 2,000 people from around the world having viewed the nearly 70 objects on Derby Silk Mill’s Sketchfab page, the road to which I will talk a little more about later.

Co-Producing 3D scans

Co-production is embedded in everything we do at Derby Museums. We work with our communities to develop and deliver meaningful experiences in our museums, from education sessions and furniture making to building exhibitions and experimenting with new technologies. This meant that it was never a question of if, rather of when we would get volunteers involved in the process. When I started at Derby Museums in October 2015 I had no experience in 3D imaging, so learning the process of 3D scanning took some time!

One of my, more interesting, early attempts at 3D modelling.

We generally use an Artec Eva scanner with Artec Studio as the processing tool to produce the initial scans, using Autodesk ReMake to fill any gaps in the scan that the scanner is unable to reach.

Luckily our first 3D imaging volunteer, Lucia, was already very highly trained in 3D imaging so it was an amazing opportunity for the project to learn from her, and for Lucia to apply her skills in a new way. She greatly improved our own in-house knowledge of 3D scanning and introduced new skills such as photogrammetry to the project, which allowed us to take on larger-scale projects such as producing a 3D model of our model railway.

Lucia, scanning our model railway.

She also introduced us to Sketchfab as a way to share our images with a wider audience which, as I mentioned, has been a very successful part of the project. We recognise our volunteers’ contributions on Sketchfab by tagging the scans with ‘co-production’ and stating ‘This image was created in co-production with our volunteers’ in the object’s information section.

In the last six months, I was able to recruit two new volunteers who were completely new to 3D imaging. This was a mutually beneficial learning experience as they developed their skills while I was learning how to train someone to 3D scan from scratch. Both were amazingly patient with what can be quite a frustrating process initially and have produced some pretty amazing scans which are some of our most viewed on Sketchfab so far.

We’ve recently recruited another volunteer who’s new to 3D imaging. Our aim is to encourage one of our volunteers to help with their training, beginning some peer to peer skills sharing that will help shape the next phase of the project.

In the space of the last two years 3D Imaging has become integral to both collections development and the wider Silk Mill project. We would not have been able to get here without the contributions of our volunteers. That being said, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. From volunteers trying to balance their time given to the project, to hardware and licence issues, we’ve faced a couple of challenges. Working in co-production is never going to be the easiest or the fastest way of accomplishing a goal, working with lots of people never is. However, I would argue that it has been more rewarding. It has resulted in the revelation of new ways to achieve existing goals and sent the project off in new exciting directions that I would never have come up with had I been working on this alone.

From sharing their skills with the wider museum team and the public at events, to helping us to increase the numbers of scans we are able to do, our volunteers have been fundamental to the success of the project. What I’ve most enjoyed about co-producing our 3D imaging programme is that our volunteers have taken such ownership over their part in the wider project. To see them take such pride in the work they’re doing week after week is a real joy to see and the impact they’ve had, collectively and individually, on the wider project cannot be overstated.

One of my favourite models from our collection on Sketchfab is this shoe stretcher. It’s the first complicated scan I worked on with the public and it’s the first one of this type that I was able to really get to the quality I was happy with.

In terms of other collections, I really love the models of the Lewis Chess Pieces by the British Museum. Having seen the real versions in person and the virtual ones online, it’s really given me renewed confidence in the capability of 3D images to augment how museum collections can be interpreted.

Ongoing Work

While the Silk Mill building is closed for capital works until 2020 we are committed to expanding the reach of co-production within our communities. Over the coming months and years, we’ll continue to co-produce as many scans of our collections as possible. These scans will help inform our interpretation approach for the new Museum of Making, providing a new level of access to collections for our visitors while simultaneously making our objects globally accessible. We have already begun to experiment with displaying the scans in our galleries at Derby Museum and Art Gallery as part of a new project space, an early prototype of how scans could be used to add value to on-site visitors. It has been a really exciting couple of years working on this project and I’m really looking forward seeing what the next few bring.

Follow us on twitter @derbysilkmill, @derbymuseums and @EilishClohessy or explore our tumblr page to keep up with the latest happenings at Derby Museums. 

About the author

Derby Silk Mill

Creating stories of making - locally produced, globally significant. Inspired by the makers of the past to empower the makers of the future.


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