After a happy first session getting to grips with 3D technology, we moved down to Te Papa’s Tory Street site for the first of a series of filming sessions. Te Papa is kindly providing us with a number of rare and priceless artefacts that would not normally be seen by the public. Te Papa has also allowed us access to their Tory Street photography studio so that we can set up a turntable for displaying their objects while we film them in 3D.
Various members of staff from Te Papa, including Phil Edgar (Manager Digital Collections & Access), were able to join us in order to help with access to their resources. On the one hand, they carefully set up and handled the objects we were using so that they would not incur any damage. On the other hand, they provided invaluable insight into the significance of the objects we were working with as well as the amount of care that is required to protect them. Simple tricks such as putting cotton covered curtain weights inside objects to stabilise them or using quake wax to keep them in place were used throughout the session. At this stage we worked with objects of a similar size (all less than a foot tall) and with relatively consistent surfaces (including different types of metal and pottery). A particular favourite was Ernest Shufflebotham’s ceramic Polar Bear. A picture of it can be viewed on Te Papa’s website but it was remarkable seeing the delicate contours of its curved back and face close up, particularly when enlarged on the 3D monitor. Other objects that we filmed included an 1850s microscope and 1903 silver teapot.
Te Papa is no stranger to stereoscopy and currently holds a number of stereoscopic photography collections as well as stereoscopic equipment. It also has the Colossal Squid 3-D animation in one of its exhibition halls. Nonetheless, this will be the first time that its collection objects will be filmed extensively in 3D.
In this first session we were lucky enough to be joined by a number of experts in 3D technology including Sean Kelly (lead stereographer on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and members of Park Road Post. Unsurprisingly it took us a while to get the full 3D camera rig set up and ready to go but once Alex Funke arrived with his bespoke turntable we were ready to start filming. All sorts of challenges arose once we had the rig in place. To begin with, the monitor was not configured the way it needed to be but a bit of tweaking through the settings and Tony Pratt’s suggestion that we put it into gaming mode sorted everything out. Later, the reflections on some objects such as the silver vase meant that strange optical illusions appeared when viewed on the monitor. At one point it looked as if the bottom of the vase was stationary while the top was moving. Although these were fun visual configurations, they were not the intended effect so we had to look at changing backdrops and other visual cues to produce the images we wanted. There was also the issue of scale. With an object like the polar bear we wanted to make its diminutive size clear but we also wanted to make it visually large enough within the frame for its details to be seen.
An aspect that became apparent was that we will need to be constantly aware of our depth budget and the extent to which we can manipulate the optical field created by stereoscopy’s positive and negative parallax space. On the one hand we want to eventually give viewers a good approximation of how the object might look if it were right in front of them. On the other hand, we know that gentle exaggeration of depth may help bring forth certain stylistic features that would not otherwise be seen. Part of the fun of the upcoming sessions will be working with Te Papa staff and the other participants in the 3D Production Initiative to get this balance right.
Check out Te Papa’s blog on the session http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2013/08/23/breathing-life-into-our-collections-with-3d-imaging/