22 April, 2020
3D scanning is a marvel of modern technology – helping to push forward industries like medicine, construction, and tourism. But what hasn't been extensively explored until now is costuming, which is proving to be a fascinating endeavour, with intriguing potential.
Deep within the treasure trove of Arts Centre Melbourne's Australian Performing Arts Collection (APAC), lies over 700,000 objects from the history of Australia's performing arts. Due to limitations with current gallery space, only a small percentage of the collection has been on public display at a given time. These objects are beautifully elaborate, and tell inspiring stories about Australia’s identity and the influence that the performing arts has had on our society. Determined to share them with the public, Arts Centre Melbourne has teamed up with Deakin University's CADET Virtual Reality Lab.
Samantha Hamilton – Head of Collections, Preservation and Access – has been working with the Collections team, not only to preserve history, but to turn the precious collection into an immersive experience for all to enjoy. “The 3D scanning of costume hasn’t been widely undertaken by any collecting institution in the world and so it is an opportunity to explore the possibilities and challenges of doing so. It also opens up a whole new world for audience engagement because it allows visitors to get up close and understand the materiality of objects in ways that are not visible to the naked eye,” says Samantha.
The team at Deakin's CADET Virtual Reality Lap, preparing a costume for 3D scanning
Teaming up with Associate Professor Ben Horan and Dr Kaja Antlej from Deakin’s CADET Virtual Reality Lab, the project team used equipment generally reserved for monitoring skin conditions. “Being able to 3D digitise, or scan, these artefacts means that they can be readily shared over the internet with museums, or even in people’s homes, all over the world,” says Ben. “Once within VR, we can do things that wouldn’t be possible with a typical display within a glass booth.”
3D scanning costumes allows details to be captured in high-definition, and creates a permanent digital record. It is a method of preservation that facilitates future research and access, allowing replicas and models to be made, long after the costumes themselves are too fragile to handle.
“First and foremost, it is essential to generate a digital copy as faithful as possible for future preservation and re-use,” says Kaja. “Today we are talking about virtual reality experiences, but a 3D model may also have other uses in the future – using technology that hasn’t been yet developed. As in the case of the Notre Dame fire, 3D scanned files from the past may assist future reconstructions or digital interpretation.”
Detail of costume worn by Dame Joan Sutherland in the role of Semeramide; Boston Opera and the Sutherland Williamson Grand Opera Company tour, 1965; Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
One of the teams' projects centres around opera star Dame Joan Sutherland. They've been creating 3D models of her iconic costumes, from productions like La Traviata, Les Huguenots and Lucrezia Borgia, which were donated to the Australian Performing Arts Collection by Opera Australia in 2018.
As well as costume preservation, the team were excited by experimenting with movement - something that may not have been possible with physical heritage costumes. “For instance, with Joan’s costumes, [audiences] could zoom in with a virtual microscope to look at the fine workmanship or even try on the virtual dress!” says Ben.
Ready for scanning: costume worn by Dame Joan Sutherland in the role of Semeramide; Boston Opera and the Sutherland Williamson Grand Opera Company tour, 1965; Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
“It’s clear that 3D scanning has the potential to open up a whole new world for audiences, letting patrons get up close and personal with these historic items and understand their materiality in new ways. Australian performing arts has given us so much, and it looks as if it will keep on giving, well into the future,” says Samantha.
Explore more of Dame Joan Sutherland's iconic costume details in close-up, unearth historical facts and view rare footage from past performances in our new digital exhibition, Grand: Costumes from the Dame Joan Sutherland Collection.