3D imaging and surface analysis

3D scanning

3D scan of St Piran's Oratory, Cornwall on a black background
3D scan of St Piran’s Oratory, Cornwall. The protective concrete walls have been digitally removed to show the original building.

We have been working with 3D data since 2000. We know what we’re doing.

We can help you to scan small objects all the way up to whole landscapes – whether that’s to reproduce it with 3D printing, to spin it round on a screen for visitors, or to study an inscription or some decoration. Whether that’s for a museum, art gallery, or retail outfit.

3D images can help to bring much larger items into your display area than is possible physically. From whole buildings to entire landscapes. Experience them using augmented reality (AR), on touch screens, or even projected.

3D scanning can help to study or understand objects, even with the potential to make the unreadable readable.


3D interpretation

Penzance Market Cross. Early medieval decorations and inscriptions are almost invisible to the naked eye. Here, 3D techniques enhance the hidden details to help interpret the monument.

We can work with you to use 3D to help your interpretation or marketing requirements.

Working with real 3D data – scanned by us or anyone else – we can bring reality into virtual spaces to help tell stories. Explore a submerged shipwreck deep under the sea, or fly around a landscape, understanding it in new ways. Reconstruct a broken object to help visitors understand how it looked or how it was used.

See our case study below to see how we helped to interpret shipwrecks deep under the sea off the Isles of Scilly, UK.

Contact us to have a chat and see how we can help.


Surface analysis

The 2017 Tintagel stone after cleaning showing the writing under strong directional light
The 2017 Tintagel stone after cleaning showing the writing under strong directional light

We can offer a combined approach of 3D scanning and innovative lighting methods to study small details. Think worn coins, eroded inscriptions or decorations, or wear marks.

See our case study below to see how we helped to read faint incised handwriting at Tintagel, Cornwall.

Contact us if you would like to discuss an object.


Case studies

Tintagel medieval inscribed stone

In 2017 Tom was asked to examine an early medieval stone found during excavations at Tintagel castle. One of Tom’s specialisms and active research areas is enhancing faint and eroded details on surfaces such as inscriptions or decorations.

The stone had faint writing on it, and given the site’s importance (and mythical Arthurian connections) the team from Cornwall Archaeological Unit and English Heritage were keen to read the text. Tom used a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to create a highly detailed image of the writing which could be illuminated from any angle on screen. This breaks down the normal concept of a photograph, where the light is captured at the time it is taken and cannot be changed. By contrast, RTI captures the direction of the surface as well as colour information. It allows filters to detect when there is a change in surface direction, for example when a sharp tool scratches a letter into an otherwise flat area.

The 2017 Tintagel stone after cleaning showing the writing under strong directional light
The 2017 Tintagel stone after cleaning showing the writing under strong directional light

The stone was gently and lightly cleaned at the offices of Cornwall Archaeological Unit and an RTI was created using strong directional lighting from many different angles, combined using specialist software.

 Screenshot of the RTI file. The shadows have brought the lettering into sharp relief allowing them to be easily read.
Screenshot of the RTI file. The shadows have brought the lettering into sharp relief allowing them to be easily read.

The RTI allowed for the lettering to be revealed clearly against the surface of the stone and for them to be read carefully for the first time. It was an exciting moment to read, for the first time in a millennium, the personal names of people who lived so long ago.

The stone includes Roman and Brythonic names of ‘Tito’ (Titus) and ‘Budic’. The Latin words ‘fili’ (son) and ‘viri duo’ (two men) also appear. The excitement of reading personal names for the first time in over a millennium is incredible. Tom passed on the enhanced images and the RTI file to medieval writing specialists Professor Michelle Brown and Oliver Padel for the next stage of interpretation.

English Heritage released the story to the press in June 2018, and the stone was featured in the BBC documentary “King Arthur’s Britain: The Truth Unearthed”, aired in October 2018.


Interpreting shipwreck sites in new ways

In 2017 Tom was asked by CISMAS on behalf of Historic England to research and undertake novel ways to explain shipwreck sites using 3D technologies.

Tom found that many shipwreck sites were trying to use ‘photo-real’ approaches to showing the scatter of underwater finds on the seabed, with water, seaweed, and realistic-looking objects as you might see them. Being a non-diver he found them to be difficult to understand, and not very effective in helping non-specialists to understand what was going on around the shipwreck.

Tom was keen to arrive at a completely new concept, and drew upon his knowledge of theatre studies and minimalistic design to try out new ways of exploring shipwrecks as a non-diver and non-specialist – that is most of the interested public. Taking in the stark theatrical minimalism of Bertolt Brecht, the simple ‘voxel’ minimalism of popular game Minecraft, and the trend of ‘low poly’ 3D art, he developed a new way of showing the seabed and artefacts laying upon it. Tom used Sketchfab to deliver the results, allowing people to explore the wreck sites on any modern computing device. The models could even be used from a boat floating above the sites themselves, empowering divers to plan their route around what is often challenging topography – big craggy rocks, seaweed-filled ravines, and boulder fields.

The seabed models themselves are based upon real survey data collected for the project, processed into a ‘low poly’ angular model that still remains a true representation of the topography. Representational objects (cannons, anchors, iron shot, timbers etc) are designed and placed accurately with bright colours to allow them to be identified. The seabed and objects are then placed in a semi-transparent ‘tank’ representing the sea, with the top corresponding to real sea height at low tide. Using Sketchfab’s notation facility, the groups of artefacts were numbered sequentially, allowing them to be clicked or followed automatically for an annotated virtual tour.

The project was successfully delivered and completed in 2018.