Position Paper: The Technology Learning Curve/Infrastructure for Collaboration

For newcomers to the 3D world, the technology learning curve is daunting. For nascent projects, there are hundreds of possible modeling programs, technologies, interfaces, and dissemination platforms from which to choose, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Picking the right technology for a given project from the beginning is critical, because a misstep at the onset could waste valuable time, or worse, jeopardize a successful outcome. While there are exemplars, there is no ‘industry standard’ for cultural heritage visualization, so each project team must grapple with the technology question anew. Once chosen, the learning curve for a particular piece of software or the workflow for moving between programs is potentially steep – for the PI, for the student researchers, and for any hired staff that needs to be trained. The amount of training time required to feel confident with a piece of software varies; the learning curve for working with Unity might be three weeks, for Autodesk’s 3ds Max, it could be six months. For projects with a workflow that touches a number of different products, the learning curve is amplified.

From a forum post on www.digitaltutors.com in response to a question about the 3D learning curve: “… I could not tell you how many projects I’ve never finished. There are many causes for this… Sometimes, like you, I hit a brick wall and cannot seem to find a solution or sometimes it’s purely that whatever motivation I started with dries up. The problem with 3D is that there is a near limitless number of possible solutions to every given model and sometimes you just take the wrong approach. A vital part of 3D is problem solving and learning to work through the issues will not only make you more proficient at 3D modelling but will make you a better artist in general.” Adengu

Additionally, academics working with 3D have little community support. They are oftentimes isolated within their disciplines with little opportunity for interaction with their 3D peers. Discipline-specific academic conferences have yet to embrace 3D work, with architecture and archaeology being the rare exceptions. The Digital Humanities community is welcoming, but rarely attracts a significant contingent of scholars working with 3D. A similar situation exists with the gaming, graphics, museum, and education communities; they might be welcoming, but their focus doesn’t necessarily overlap with that of scholars working with 3D. Europe is ahead of the United States in terms of opportunities for general information, technical support, scholarly interaction with peers, and dissemination of 3D content. There are groups like:

  • DARIAH-EU (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities) that support digital research in the arts and humanities generally;
  •  V-MUST (Virtual Museum Transnational Network http://www.v-must.net/) which supports virtual museums and online educational content across the heritage sector broadly;
  •  ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites (http://www.icomos.org/en/) which deals with physical cultural heritage sites;
  •  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization http://en.unesco.org/) and their various activities to promote and protect cultural heritage (including Erik’s new effort);
  •  ARIADNE (an aggregation portal for archaeological research data infrastructures and datasets) http://www.ariadne-infrastructure.eu/
  •  CIPA Heritage Documentation (International Committee for Documentation of Cultural Heritage http://cipa.icomos.org/index.php?id=2);
  •  ITN-DCH (Initial Training Network for Digital Cultural Heritage http://itn-dch.eu/);
  • Europeana, Europeana Space, and 3D-Icons (promoting the ‘creative re-use of digital cultural content http://www.europeana-space.eu/, http://3dicons-project.eu/, and http://www.3dicons.ie/);
  • EPOCH (European Network of Excellence in Open Cultural Heritage, although all posted papers are from 2004-2008, http://epoch-net.org/site/);
  • CAA (Computer Applications & Quantitative Methods in Archaeology http://caa-international.org/) which focused broadly on computation and narrowly on archaeology; and
  • ISPRS (International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing http://www.isprs.org/).

Additionally, there are a number of Euro-centric annual conferences related (or not) to the above-mentioned organizations: VAST (International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Intelligent Cultural Heritage), with an emphasis on archaeology; EUROMED (International Conference on Digital Heritage); and VSMM (Conference on Virtual Systems and MultiMedia Dedicated to Digital Heritage).

In the United States, we have limited support for Digital Humanities generally and 3D research specifically. Digital interests in the Library world is similarly well represented, but there is just not a counterpart to the robust network for 3D scholars as exists in Europe. A short list of U.S. organizations includes:

  •  HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory https://www.hastac.org/),
  •  ACH (The Association for Computers and the Humanities http://ach.org/),
  •  the National Humanities Alliance (largely a promotional organization, http://www.nhalliance.org/),
  •  regional support networks like the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI https://uchri.org/),
  •  DPLA (The Digital Public Library of America, the American counterpart to Europeana, although they do not currently support 3D content. https://dp.la/)
  •  CNI (Coalition for Networked Information https://www.cni.org/),
  •  DLF (Digital Library Federation https://www.diglib.org/),
  •  IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services https://www.imls.gov/),
  •  Ithaka and Ithaka S+R (http://www.ithaka.org/ and http://www.sr.ithaka.org/),
  •  NDSA (National Digital Stewardship Alliance, an effort of the Library of Congress, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the DLF. http://ndsa.diglib.org/), and
  •  Humanities Indicators (http://humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=11)
  •  Canadian … Historic GIS group … run out of Toronto?


How to address the technology learning curve? What information can be generated/shared with subsequent scholars to encourage 3D research? Is there a standard 3D toolkit? Would it help if recommendations for project development were posted online? Training videos? How to support scholars working at institutions without the infrastructure for 3D work? How to build a community of scholars working with 3D? How can we easily connect scholars across disciplinary boundaries?


Champion, Erik. “The role of 3D models in virtual heritage infrastructures.” In Cultural Heritage Digital Tools and Infrastructures, edited by Agiatis Benardou, Erik Champion, Costis Dallas, and Lorna Hughes. London: Routledge, 2017. (This reading speaks to a number of our discussion topics.)

Dombrowski, Quinn. “What ever happened to Project Bamboo?” Literary and Linguistic Computing 2014. https://rd-alliance.org/system/files/filedepot/136/Lit%20Linguist%20Computing-2014-Dombrowski-llc-fqu026.pdf

3D-ICONS Guidelines and Case Studies. http://3dicons-project.eu/eng/Resources/D7.3-3D-ICONS-Guidelines-and-Case-Studies

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