The Digital Michaelangelo Project

Marc Levoy, Stanford Computer Science

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 10, 1997


Recent improvements in laser rangefinder technology, together with algorithms developed in our research group for combining multiple range images, allow us to reliably and accurately digitize the external shape of many physical objects. As an application of this technology, we have embarked on a multi-year project to create a high-quality 3D archive of the sculptures of Michelangelo. 

To accomplish this project, I and a team of Stanford students will spend the 1998-99 academic year in Italy, basing ourselves at the Stanford Overseas Studies Center in Florence. Our primary acquisition device will be an ultra-high resolution laser rangefinder mounted on a mobile gantry. The output of this process will be a set of 3D computer models, one per sculpture, each model consisting of about 100 million triangles. At certain sites, we will also employ a video camera mounted on a (different) mobile gantry. The output of this second process will be a set of light fields, which are dense arrays of images viewable using new techniques from image-based rendering. 

The goals of this project are primarily scholarly and educational, although commercialization is also possible. In this talk, I will briefly outline the scholarly motivations, technical challenges, and possible outcomes of this project. I will also enumerate some of the problems posed by incorporating 3D graphics and image-based rendering techniques into interactive multimedia venues. Finally, I will mention some applications of these technologies to problems in art preservation and archeology. 


 Marc Levoy is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. He received a B. Architecture in 1976 from Cornell University, an M.S. in 1978 from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1989 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was the architect of the Hanna-Barbera Computer Animation System and served as director of Hanna-Barbera's Computer Animation Laboratory from 1980 through 1983. His principal publications are in the areas of computer animation, volume visualization, rendering algorithms, and machine vision. His current research interests include volume rendering and volumetric representations, digitizing the shape and appearance of physical objects using multiple sensing technologies, geometry and image compression, image-based rendering, and the design of languages and user interfaces for data visualization. Levoy received the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1991 and the SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award in 1996 for his work in volume rendering.


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