(University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA)


This paper will present The Digital Sculpture Project (DSP) of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory at the University of Virginia. 3D digital modeling often encounters a barrier when confronted with the kind of complex geometry that characterizes most sculpture. Through its DSP, the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory is pioneering new solutions and applications in this important but neglected area of the digital humanities.

The DSP is devoted to studying ways in which 3D digital technologies can be applied to the capture, representation and interpretation of sculpture from all periods and cultures. Up to now, 3D technologies have been used in fruitful ways to represent geometrically simple artifacts such as pottery or larger-scale structures such as buildings and entire cities. With some notable exceptions, sculpture has been neglected by digital humanists. The DSP  will fill this gap by focusing on the following issues:

  • 3D data capture and documentation;
  • digital restoration;
  • digital tools for the processing and analysis of digitized sculpture, including colorization; and
  • analysis of earlier forms of sculptural reproduction, particularly the cast.


Methodology. (a) For 3D data capture, modeling, and dissemination of sculpture: 3D data capture was achieved using the highly accurate fringe projection techniques developed by Breuckmann GmbH. Raw scan data are then processed by standard software packages such as Polyworks and Meshlab. Our main area of innovation concerns the user interface, which is based on the concept of “secure remote rendering” (SRR). SRR is typically required in cultural heritage applications. (b) For studies of the accuracy of first-generation plaster and resin casts as compared to marble and bronze originals we use “Tolerance based Pass/Fail Comparison” and “Error Map Comparison” tests. (c) For hypotheses of reconstruction of fragmentary statues we use traditional art-historical techniques.

Results: The results of (a) are that highly accurate scans and models of complex works of sculpture are technologically feasible. The main result of (b) is that it is often useful to scan a first-generation cast as well as the original statue itself. The main result of (c) is that adding the third dimension when our documentation of previous phases of now disassembled sculptural fragments is critical in resolving ambiguities that are impossible to address through the 2D graphic testimonia alone.


3D data capture, 3D modeling, sculpture, casts