QuickTime VR (QTVR) Artifact Photography at the
National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum opened the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in December of 2003. From March to November of 2003, the Museum moved over 200 artifacts to this new display facility to prepare them for public display where they will remain for years to come. This artifact move was an unprecedented opportunity to photograph a large portion of the National collection of aircraft, spacecraft, and small objects in detail. Objects like the Lockheed SR-71, Piper J-3 Cub, Bell UH-IH Helicopter, and Lockheed Vega "Winnie Mae" will be obscured by exhibits or hung high above the floor, where they will be forever inaccessible to truly comprehensive photography.
The goal of the QTVR Artifact Photography project was to obtain archival quality digital photographs of Museum artifacts and to create QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) object models and cockpit panoramas. These products provide an interactive view of aircraft and spacecraft from all sides (i.e. 360 degrees). To create QTVR of large artifacts, the Museum created a system for photographing as many objects as possible, and in as much detail as possible, during the artifact move-in operation. With the help of professional photographers contracted for this project, the Museum was able to photograph over 100 large aircraft and spacecraft before the Museum opened its doors in December, 2003. An additional 51 artifacts were photographed by end of 2004 and the project has continued to document new objects moved to the facility each year.
The techniques employed to create QTVR involve rotating objects in 360 degrees while individual images are taken of the object from every 10 degree angle. These images are then stitched together to create a seamless 360 degree view - or object model - viewable on any computer in freely available QuickTime player software. To rotate large objects such as aircraft and spacecraft, a custom platform was created for each object and they were rotated with the assistance of Museum collections professionals. A small version of this system was used to rotate and photograph small objects, providing the same photographic coverage for artifacts such as cameras, models and engines. For extremely large artifacts, cameras were be placed around the object to create a 360 view. Artifact cockpits are also photographed using a special automated tripod head. This technique results in a spherical panoramic view inside the cockpit, providing visitors with an otherwise impossible look behind the controls.
The photography and QTVR products resulting from this project were used to create interactive kiosks at the Udvar-Hazy Center, providing visitors the ability to see inside the cockpits of aircraft and space objects on display. QTVR products are also used for ongoing educational demonstrations, research, and other public outreach activities.
This project represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to take advantage of rare access to some of the most important and popular objects in the National collection of aircraft and spacecraft. It is by far the largest QTVR effort approached by the Smithsonian, and it may indeed be unique in its scale among aviation museums. The results of this project will not only include QTVR object models and panoramic photography, but a massive collection of still digital photography that will remain an important archival record for the Museum to aid in the preservation, public education and appreciation of these artifacts for years to come.
Since 2007, the primary focus of the QTVR project has been to document and create QTVR panoramas of cockpits and artifact interiors.
If you are interested in supporting this project, please contact the Museum's Office of Advancement.
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