Excellence in 3D with La Réunion des Musées Nationaux Grand Palais

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Earlier this year Sketchfab had the pleasure of paying a visit to the offices of La Réunion des Musées Nationaux Grand Palais (RMN-GP) in Paris. Representing some of the most important French cultural institutions including the Grand Palais, Musée de Cluny, Musée d’archéologie nationale and many more, the group ensures the production of some of the best cultural content out of France.

François Bougnères and Benoît Touchard take us behind the scenes for a tour of how RMN-GP captures famous works of art in glorious 3D. François and Benoît work at the Photo Agency of the Reunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, François has initiated and developed the programme of photo-realistic 3D reproduction of artworks in the main French national museums; Benoît joined the 3D team in 2015 to help push the boundaries of quality and photo-realism in photogrammetry thanks to his mastery in photography and post-production.

 

How did you end up working in 3D in the field of cultural heritage?

FB: When i started working on the Photo Agency strategy, I identified 3D as the next wave of digital content and thought the French museums had to blaze the 3D reproduction trail and develop excellency in the field. It took several years to accomplish that.

BT: I’ve been in technical photography for over a decade, developing infrared cameras and expertise as well as HD (and ultra HD) photography for art restorers, art dealers, private collectors and museums. 3D reproduction appeared as an impassioning challenge to take on.

We are very glad and grateful to the Louvre museum for the opportunity to scan this Egyptian jewel :

 

and the Orsay museum for the Gauguin collection:

 

Where can people view the results of your work?

Our collections of artworks in 3D can be seen on the Photo Agency website and grandpalais.fr, thanks to Sketchfab embeds! Most of the museums use the 3D models in mediation applications and have their own Sketchfab account now, on which we regularly upload the new artworks:

The 3D reproductions are also feeding the production of editorial content through integration in VR, AR applications, video games, documentaries, video, or even high quality photo rendering… in 2D sometimes!

Exhibitions are also a great media to enjoy 3D, take the Eternal Sites exhibition (video) produced with Iconem. The immersive experience and 3D content were a great success. Hybrid exhibitions might become the norm. New projects are initiated every day!

 

About the production process of a 3D scan at the Photo Agency

Our 3D process must allow dozens of different outputs, some of which at a scientific level of precision. We capture and post produce in the highest quality possible and adjust the output and its quality through a flexible post-production pipeline.

We choose from a range of cameras depending on shooting conditions, from Canon 80d (apsc) and Nikon D810 (dslr) up to Phaseone XF, and use lots of light in order to produce the best data possible.

  1. Images are developed trough adobe CS, then aligned and rendered in Capturing reality.
  2. Meshes are cleaned in Geomagic Wrap and finalized in zBrush (sometimes UV mapped / unwrapped) then reprojected in Capturing treality.
  3. Textures are finalized in Mari3D and Photoshop (color management as well as fine texture settings).

 

What is the hardest thing about capturing a work of art in 3D?

FB: I would say being well connected with the curator or its team and having proper access to the artwork…

BT: Being able to create the best shooting conditions for photogrammetry while ensuring security of the artworks is the main challenge. The artworks I did capture range from 3.000 years old Egyptian jewelry to Renaissance sculptures and modern paintings, all of them different : level of detail, variety of materials, fragility, size, shooting conditions and so on. You have to be flexible: the capture itself could be different each time.

 

What do you strive for when digitizing in 3D? What are your priorities?

BT: Proper lighting is probably the most important, the key to produce high quality photorealistic 3D !
For postproduction, the main subtlety is to ensure a proper management of the color chain management. We strive to capture the best images of the artwork and keep in mind that pictures are data that will feed a software. The rules of what is a good or a bad picture are different if it is to be interpreted by a person or a software. I often say that exif data is almost as important as the image itself !

What do you think that 3D can offer museums and cultural heritage that is different from other mediums?

Aren’t we more likely to ask : « what is it that 3D can’t do for museums and cultural heritage ? »

It helps improving all existing mediums, creates new ways to experience cultural heritage in all fields, from scientific to educational, communication and even commercial purposes. 3D technologies enrich the way we interact with the artworks, hopefully for the benefit of the widest audiences.

 

You have produced several scans of painting – traditionally considered 2D works of art. What does presenting them in 3D offer a viewer?

Well, we have a perfect 3D reproduction that you can look at from any angle, the painting can be studied and integrated in every 3D environment, virtual exhibitions etc

The varying effects of light on the different areas of the painting depending on your position are pure 3D magic…!

A painting, as any artwork is an object. It has sides, and a back usually holding great information… Think about the Raft of the Medusa, around 5 meters by 7. People used to see it on posters or books, even 11cm postcards ! Looking at it in 3D, in VR or AR for example, you have the right perception of size and volume. This is a huge painting!

Along with the obvious scientific value of these files, we noticed that 2D (photo) renderings of the 3D models would actually produce better pictures in size and quality than the traditional HD photo files. Imagine a 29000 x 36000px orthoprojection of a 70x90cm painting by Paul Gauguin !

How do you hope museum audiences use or engage with the 3d content you are producing?

Sketchfab is already a great way to see the artworks, it is a great addition to the museum visit and a huge breakthrough if you can’t travel to the museum… We think 3D is a strong media to design new experiences and tell stories in new ways. The audiences are usually quite fast in understanding the interest of this new 3D content as long as interactions and experiences are well designed.

The French museums are slowly discovering how to produce those experiences: 3D models are a fantastic tool for contextualization. You can actually think about and create any virtual or historic environment.

Education is the most important, but we also hope this will open a new window of creativity for cultural content producers and fertilise the way artworks are displayed, explained to the audiences and the way stories are told or experienced.

Let’s look to the future now. Where do you see 3D digitisation for museums in 3 years time?

BT: 3 years from now seems very close. I feel virtual reality in the field of Cultural Heritage questions art and museography in a new way and maybe for the first time, leaves answering partly to the public. On the technical side, wide spectrum and dense 3D digitization (through infrared, Xray or MRI for instance) are really catching my interest.

FB: My hope is for museums to realize how powerful 3D is on the broader cultural and education field. How taking the time to reproduce an artwork in 3D will not only help study and preserve it but also instantly enable millions of people to see and enjoy them and unleash creative new ways to tell or experience their stories.

Thank you François and Benoît for taking the time to share your experience in this exciting field! Be sure to check out the Sketchfab profiles listed above for the latest 3D output from RMN Grand-Palais.

About the author

Thomas Flynn

Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab.
Co-founder of museuminabox.org


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