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Lab creates 3-D scans of military miniatures for Virginia War Memorial

Lab creates 3-D scans of military miniatures for Virginia War Memorial

A Virginia Commonwealth University lab is 3-D scanning the Virginia War Memorial's collection of military miniatures as part of a digital display that will allow visitors to more easily explore the museum's exhibit of thousands of figurines.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory in the College of Humanities and Sciences' School of World Studies, which scans and 3-D prints a wide array of historical artifacts, has been scanning and creating rotating animated images of the miniatures over the past several weeks.

The idea is that the animations will be incorporated into a touch-screen display that will be installed in the Richmond museum's Undercroft Exhibit Hall next to the Allan Miniatures exhibit, a collection of an estimated 6,000 figurines, roughly 3,000 of which are on display.

"The problem with displaying so many items is that it's hard to have a good write-up on each individual item," said Jesse Smith, curator of the Virginia War Memorial. "So we're making a digital display that will accompany the exhibit, right next to the display case. You'll be able to tap each group of soldiers, and it'll bring them up and tell you who they are. And accompanying that will be a 3-D scan of one or a handful of the soldiers, so you'll be able to rotate it and see it from every angle."

Chelsea Miller, senior history major, 3-D scans a miniature of a French soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, part of the Virginia War Memorial's collection of thousands of military miniatures.
Chelsea Miller, senior history major, 3-D scans a miniature of a French soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, part of the Virginia War Memorial's collection of thousands of military miniatures.

Chelsea Miller, a senior history major at VCU, is interning at the Virginia War Memorial and was assigned the project of working on a digital display for the Allan Miniatures exhibit. Miller suggested that the museum reach out to Bernard Means, Ph.D., an anthropology instructor and director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, as he had discussed his lab's 3-D scanning work in her Introduction to Anthropology course.

"I thought it'd be interesting if we could do 3-D scans of these miniatures because a photo only lets you see so many angles. A 3-D scan lets you see everything," she said. "So I approached Professor Means about the possibility of 3-D scanning the miniatures, and he was all for it."

Means visited the Virginia War Memorial to scan several pieces, and Miller has been delivering four or five miniatures to the Virtual Curation Lab each week to be 3-D scanned and animated.

"We're scanning representative examples — like one soldier from a particular battalion or one of the leaders from another," Means said.

Many of the military miniatures that have been scanned so far have been from the Napoleonic Wars, Smith said. The digital display will allow visitors to understand details from the war, such as the significance of regiments' different colored uniforms and flags.

"For the digital display, there will be a big shot of the case, and each row will be numbered. If you wanted to see, say, the First Regiment Brunswick Army, you could go to row four, tap on the First Regiment, and it'll tell you who they were and what their role was in the Napoleonic Wars," Smith said.

"And with the 3-D scan," he added, "you'll be able to tap on it and make it rotate."

VCU graduate Lauren Volkers works on the 3-D scan of the Virginia War Memorial's porcelain Japanese hand grenade.
VCU graduate Lauren Volkers works on the 3-D scan of the Virginia War Memorial's porcelain Japanese hand grenade.

Means has not only been scanning the Virginia War Memorial's collection of military miniatures. He has also started 3-D scanning several historical artifacts from its collection, including a porcelain Japanese hand grenade from World War II and a piece of barbed wire from the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

The artifact scans will allow the Virtual Curation Laboratory to 3-D print replicas of the items, Means said.

"We'll 3-D print them, and we'll make them available as part of our public archaeology programs," he said. "I like to highlight as many different aspects of history as possible. That's really useful when we do things like go talk to high-school history classes."

I'm always trying to get students interested in archaeology. ... It's a way of drawing them in.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory's mission is to preserve the past and make it more widely available, Means said. And the chance to scan fascinating wartime artifacts in the Virginia War Memorial's collection presents a great opportunity to help educate the public.

"I have a very elastic notion of the past. In fact, we scan contemporary items as well — anything we think might potentially interest students in the future," he said. "I'm always trying to get students interested in archaeology. They may not care about Native American [artifacts] or Jamestown. But they might be interested in World War II or World War I. It's a way of drawing them in."

 

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A 3-D scanner hooked up to a laptop scans a military miniature from the Virginia War Memorial's collection.
A 3-D scanner hooked up to a laptop scans a military miniature from the Virginia War Memorial's collection.
Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of VCU's Virtual Curation Laboratory, and senior history major Chelsea Miller 3-D scan a porcelain WWII-era Japanese hand grenade at the Virginia War Memorial.
Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of VCU's Virtual Curation Laboratory, and senior history major Chelsea Miller 3-D scan a porcelain WWII-era Japanese hand grenade at the Virginia War Memorial.
Chelsea Miller, senior history major, 3-D scans a miniature of a French soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, part of the Virginia War Memorial's collection of thousands of military miniatures.
Chelsea Miller, senior history major, 3-D scans a miniature of a French soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, part of the Virginia War Memorial's collection of thousands of military miniatures.
A 3-D image of a military miniature begins to emerge as the figurine is 3-D scanned.
A 3-D image of a military miniature begins to emerge as the figurine is 3-D scanned.
Thousands of military miniatures are on display at the Virginia War Memorial. VCU's Virtual Curation Laboratory is working to 3-D scan representative samples of the collection for a digital display.
Thousands of military miniatures are on display at the Virginia War Memorial. VCU's Virtual Curation Laboratory is working to 3-D scan representative samples of the collection for a digital display.