Published Apr 12 2013, by

Our Museum’s Digital Collection is Going 3-D


IMG_08663-D scanning sounds like something from Minority Report, or at the very least, like it belongs in a lab at a fancy research institution. Me? As an art history major and admitted bookworm, the most technically advanced I ever get is checking an online database for an article from Burlington Magazine.

How do these two worlds collide? When I meet Matt, who was working in the galleries here at the Crow Collection of Asian Art one afternoon taking 3-d scans of our Tibetan sculptures.


Matt works for the company SculptCAD which manages the three dimensional, digital scans of objects locally from Expo Park. If objects cannot be moved due to humidity and temperature sensitivity, they send a tech like Matt to the location with all the necessary equipment. I was a little surprised that the process was not as rigorous as I imagined something so high key as three dimensional scanning would be!  Like for all technological process, a lot of it is performed within the computer. To register the object, Matt smudged little balls of clay strategically around the platform the object sits on which work like anchor points, easing the process to stitch all previous scans together. The monitor next to his scanner displays the progress. With each new rotation, a different layer is added to the object on the screen. It takes about 60 seconds for the computer to finish one side.

Matt explains to me that their scanning company is most familiar in utilizing their equipment for medical purposes, from creating customizable molds of skulls, to replacing a bone inside a body. (In addition to having a 3d scanner, SculptCAD also has an awesome 3d printer, which prints things out of a medical-grade synthetic material called VeroClear.) Sometimes local artists get their work scanned, theoretically so they can send the specs to a plastics or metal factory and have their pieces mass produced. SculptCAD has previously worked with the Tate, MoMA, and the Nasher Sculpture Center for conservation purposes and other reasons, but this was SculptCAD‘s first endeavor in scanning objects with the intention to hand the scans over to video game programming students at Austin College. In detail, these scans are going to be incorporated into our new exhibit Taking Shape: Fresh Perspectives on Asian Bronzes as a digital component, to help explore what happens when our objects aren’t in the museum, virtually.

There are plenty of reasons to have all of our collection digitally scanned. It would be a major accomplishment in the archival department. Condition reports would be a breeze, curators could plan future exhibitions based on three dimensional models, keeping the actual artwork from being harmed in the process, and the audience can finally explore and interact all different sides of a piece of art: front, back, sidewise, and in detail. Audiences can also study pieces of our collection from L.A. New York, or even Nepal.


You should check out SculptCad’s blog, you’ll find Emily Aberg’s human touch to something as serious as 3d scanning easing to the concept of how technology is becoming accessible and something we can learn from.

Kathleen Forrest
Membership and Marketing Assisstant