As part of our ongoing work experimenting with 3D digital technology, we have just launched a Royal Pavilion & Museums account on Sketchfab: sketchfab.com/BrightonMuseums.
If you’re not familiar with Sketchfab, it’s a platform for publishing and sharing 3D and VR content online. Numerous museums are using Sketchfab now, and there is even a dedicated channel for 3D content from museums and other cultural organisations.
Sketchfab seems to be fast doing for 3D content what YouTube did for videos several years ago. Like YouTube, Sketchfab is bringing together collections of rich media so that users can easily search and browse through content from a variety of providers. It’s also curing some technical headaches; like video, 3D models are complex media that come in a range of evolving formats and file sizes. One of YouTube’s biggest achievements was to enable people to rapidly publish video without having to worry about codecs and other issues, and enabling the publisher to feel confident that their video would work in most browsers and devices. Indeed, YouTube arguably did this so well that many of us have forgotten how difficult it used to be to publish video on the web.
Publishing Piltdown Man
Up until now, we have relied on software such as 3D Hop to publish our models online. 3D Hop is open source and has many great features, but the way we published these models was a laborious process. First, each model had to be compressed down to a manageable size, often with some reduction in quality. Then each model had to be manually uploaded to a server along with a hand coded HTML file to display it. That HTML file then had to be pulled into our website through an iframe, such as this example of the Piltdown Man skull which was kindly digitised for us by the University of Brighton’s Cultural Informatics Group.
By contrast, getting the model online through Sketchfab has simply been a case of uploading the original file to our account, and then copying the embed code into our website. The example above has taken a fraction of the time it took before, and the overall quality is much higher.
Royal Pavilion in detail
Another good example is this 2015 model of the Royal Pavilion by volunteer Colin Jones.This is a complex and detailed model, and compressing it to work with 3D Hop created too much distortion.
Colin was able to get a version of the model live with X3D, but this was still a complicated process. Thanks to Sketchfab we are now able to publish the model again, this time using a detailed 49mb file rather than a heavily compressed version. We have also used Sketchfab to add a metallic surface to the model. While the Pavilion has never had such a surface historically, it helps make the detail of the model more visible.
We only have a small number of models available on Sketchfab at present, but we will be uploading more soon.
Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager