3-D recording of Egyptian monuments being performed by University of California specialists

Science Daily reports on the work of Thomas DeFanti, a research scientist and data visualization expert at the University of California, San Diego. DeFanti is currently engaged in capturing 3-D images of many of Luxor’s ancient monuments utilizing awesome new photographic process.

It would be a proof-of-concept expedition to see if the 3-D CAVEcam — two Lumix GF1 cameras carefully calibrated to take simultaneous right and left images — would be functional in the super bright, hot and dusty conditions of the Nile River Valley. But for DeFanti, an avid traveler and lover of photography, it would also be a way to bring the splendors of one of the primary world heritage sites back to his state-of-the-art visualization facility at UCSD’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

“I knew there were a lot of things at Luxor that were visually interesting and would look good in 3-D,” explains DeFanti, who, as a grad student in 1970, developed an interest in computer graphics as a way to explore electronic photography (and is still at it).

“But this was also a way to test the CAVEcam in the field to see if would withstand rigorous conditions. It’s like when you buy a new tent — you test it overnight before you even think about taking it out for a two-month trek.”

DeFanti says he was also interested in conducting indoor focus and exposure tests of the CAVEcam. He suspected the 3-D color detail spanning the interior walls of Luxor’s various structures would make for compelling imagery, especially when projected onto Calit2’s 3-D StarCAVE or onto its massive tiled HIPerSpace display.

On the first of two days in the field, the team woke at dawn to shoot the Temple of Luxor, and then moved on to the Temple of Amun-Re (Karnak), where they captured images until the CAVEcam’s batteries ran out. Once the heat of the afternoon had passed, they reconvened to capture Luxor Temple again at night, where the golden floodlit statues of Ramesses II were set against a deep indigo sky.

On day two, DeFanti, Saad and Wickham moved to the West Bank, onto the Ramesseum, the memorial temple of Pharoah Ramesses II, and then to Medinet Habu, where some of the original paint on the bas-reliefs inside the temple of Ramesses III is still intact. Finally, they photographed a group of reliefs at Amun-Re that relate to the campaign of Shoshenq (Shishak), the first ancient Egyptian name of a pharaoh mentioned in the Bible.

Even in the best conditions, the process of taking stereo photos with the CAVEcam is complex and fatiguing. Dick Ainsworth, DeFanti’s collaborator since 1973, designed the device to simultaneously trigger the shutters of both cameras, like two mechanical human eyes. But to achieve a 360 x 180 degree panoramic effect, the CAVEcam has to take 72 pictures per “eye,” with the robotic GigaPan® Epic Pro automatically repositioning the camera each time, for a total of 144 images.

Those images, which are each 10 megapixels in resolution, then need to be stitched together like a quilt using a painstaking stitching program called PTGui Pro. Ainsworth subsequently stitched all the Luxor images comfortably sitting at his home in Ridgeway Wisconsin.


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The Art of Counting is dedicated to the memory of Margery Meilleur, who first taught me to view history through the eyes of the images we create.