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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday December 11, 2020

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Kathryn Cassidy

Kathryn Cassidy

Software Engineer , Digital Repository of Ireland

portrait of Mashal Ahmad

Mashal Ahmad

Software Developer , Digital Repository of Ireland

Introducing the Europeana Common Culture 3D pilot

3D content is a relative newcomer to the field of cultural heritage and poses many challenges due to the high pace of technological innovation with 3D capture devices, lack of standardisation and range of file formats. In this post, we look at the work carried out under the Europeana Common Culture project to investigate best practice for aggregating 3D content to Europeana and develop a functional application to support 3D aggregation.

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3D surface reconstruction of Beheenagh Bridge, Co. Kerry from the TII Collection with Octree depth 5,7 and 10
Transport Infrastructure Ireland

As part of the the Europeana Common Culture project, three pilots (Metis Sandbox, the Linked Open Data Aggregator and 3D Content in Europeana) experimented with novel approaches for aggregation which were tested by national aggregators (NAs) and validated with cultural heritage institutions (CHIs). Trinity College Dublin (TCD) led the 3D pilot in collaboration with the new National Aggregator for Ireland, Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI).

Aggregating 3D content 

The DRI has been providing solutions to preserve, curate and provide sustained access to Ireland’s cultural heritage data since 2015. In October 2019, DRI achieved Europeana Accredited Aggregator status, having developed an aggregation service for Irish Cultural Heritage Institutes as part of the Common Culture project. TCD then set out to extend this aggregation service by adding support for 3D content.

The first step was to investigate best practice for 3D content aggregation in terms of file formats, metadata and EDM integration. Currently the Europeana Publishing Framework provides quality guidelines for textual, image, sound and video content, but there is little guidance available for 3D content. An investigation carried out by TCD found that there was a huge variation in the types and quality of content which was tagged as 3D in Europeana. TCD worked with the Europeana Network Association’s 3D Content in Europeana Task Force contributing to the recommendations for 3D content published in the Task Force final report.

Making 3D scans available  

After the Task Force published its recommendations, work began on extending the DRI aggregation service to support 3D content. An initial dataset was provided by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) consisting of territorial laser scans of scenes, archaeological monuments, famous statues and bridges captured using Faro Focus S120 and Leica TS15 scanners.

Although the substantial scans can be viewed using desktop software, they pose a challenge for web based applications where the data needs to load quickly for display in a browser with user friendly interactions. Using a variety of tools, 3D replicas of the scenes were reconstructed to provide lightweight versions of the source files in interoperable formats (although the source files remain available alongside these versions). A detailed description of this preprocessing is available in Europeana Tech Insight issue 14

3D embeddable viewer

The next step was to provide users with the tools not only to view but to interact with 3D content. The JavaScript WebGL API, which is built into most modern web browsers, makes it possible to build web-embeddable 3D viewers. A range of options are available, including commercial platforms like Sketchfab as well as self-hosted solutions such as 3DHOP or Smithsonian voyager. 

For the 3D pilot, TCD decided to build a custom embeddable viewer which would allow organisations to integrate the tool into their own platforms without any of the fees associated with commercial solutions, which would also support a larger range of file formats than some of the self-hosted alternatives. This was developed as part of the DRI National Aggregator platform, and consists of a lightweight viewer that leverages an open source framework for robust 3D display using the Three.js JavaScript library. The viewer is also available as a standalone version suitable for embedding. For embedding purpose, TCD followed the Europeana Publishing Guidelines and made the viewer compliant with the oEmbed API. 

View of a Face Shield 3D Model as it appears in the DRI Repository 3D viewer
Digital Repository of Ireland

To aggregate these sources to Europeana, the oEmbed url is included in EDM records, allowing the viewer to be incorporated into the Europeana page for the object. The EDM records for 3D content have been tested using the Metis Sandbox, a tool developed by one of the other Common Culture pilot projects.

Future Development

TCD and DRI intend to further develop the 3D viewer to add functionality for virtual tours, AR/VR integration and other features. All of the code developed as part of the pilot has been published on GitHub under an open source Apache License, Version 2.0, and can be reused directly, or used as an example for other aggregators interested in aggregating high quality 3D content to Europeana.