Cultural Heritage Imaging

CHI celebrates 10 years as a nonprofit corporation! by cdschroer
August 16, 2012, 5:47 pm
Filed under: Commentary, News, On Location | Tags: ,

On August 16, 2002 we founded Cultural Heritage Imaging as a nonprofit corporation in San Francisco.  Wow, it seems like yesterday and it seems like a long time ago!  Our digital camera at that time was 3 megapixels and it had a pretty slow auto focus. We had seen Tom Malzbender’s pioneering Polynomial Texture Mapping paper at SIGGRAPH in 2001, and we began working with him several weeks later. However, using the technique required working with command-line software and capturing images using either a lighting array (dome) or a very time consuming detailed template approach.

CHI’s manual RTI rig – 2004

We were shooting some 3D using structured light software from Eyetronics, and we had been on site with Professor Patrick Hunt of Stanford University at his archeological excavation at the Grand St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland as early as 2001.

Mark Mudge, Carla Schroer, and Marlin Lum on location at the Grand St. Bernard Pass in August 2004

We have come a long way since then, working with numerous museums, historic sites, archaeologists and historians, as well as computer science researchers. In 2006 we developed (with Tom Malzbender) the Highlight RTI technique, and we worked with the team at the University of Minho in Portugal to develop open source software to support that (RTIBuilder).  With a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services beginning in 2006, we researched a multi-view approach to RTI and out of that collaboration with Professor James Davis et. al. of UC Santa Cruz and the Visual Computing Lab in Pisa came the open source Hemispherical Harmonics fitter (section 6 in the tutorial notes) and the RTIViewer.

Also in 2006 we were contacted by folks at the Worcester Art Museum Conservation Lab interested in using RTI for art conservation. After a small pilot project, we built a light array for them and trained them in the RTI technique. To this day we appreciate this group, their vision of how this technology could be used regularly in their field, and their willingness to go out on a limb to make to make it happen and share their work with others.

Worcester Art Museum Conservation Lab – May 2008

In 2008, as interest in RTI grew on the part of museums and historic sites, CHI made a great effort to develop training programs for RTI and other computational photography techniques.  We have since trained over 200 people in our full 4 day RTI class, and we have introduced hundreds more to RTI through workshops and presentations at numerous conferences and lecture series.

Our current research work includes an NSF funded project with Professor Szymon Rusinkiewicz of Princeton University to further develop the technique of Algorithmic Rendering with RTI data sets and easy-to-use software that includes a way to keep track of the full process history in a digital lab notebook. We began working on the requirements and methodology for how to manage this process history for all of our imaging work and especially RTI back in 2002, and  we shared it with the computer graphics community in 2004 on a SIGGRAPH panel called “Computer Graphics and Cultural Heritage: What are the Issues?” chaired by professor Holly Rushmeier.  Our early work referred to this subject as “empirical provenance,” described in detail in this 2007 paper delivered at the CIPA conference.

So now, 11 cameras, many well-worn travel bags, and I can’t even count how many laptops later, we enter our second decade of collaboration with many wonderful people from all over the planet. We thank some of the folks who have helped us along the way on our acknowledgments web page but it isn’t and can’t possibly be a complete list. CHI was founded on the principles of collaboration and the democratization of technology, producing tools and methodology that enhance scientific reliability and long-term preservation.

We would like to say thank-you to everyone who has volunteered time, donated money or equipment, shared their work, asked us questions, answered our questions, written down how to do things, listened to us speak, formed project collaborations, or run across our path in some interesting way!  We hope to meet you all again, and many others down the road.