The Digital Michelangelo Project:
3D Scanning of Large Statues

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(frontispiece of Siggraph 2000 proceedings)

A computer rendering made from a 3D model of Michelangelo's David. The model was built by scanning the statue using a laser triangulation rangefinder and assembling the resulting range images to form a seamless polygon mesh. The mesh contains 8 million polygons, each about 2.0 mm in size. The raw data from which the mesh was built contains 2 billion polygons, representing range samples spaced 0.25 mm apart on the statue surface. Although we also digitized the statue's color, the veining and reflectance shown here are artificial. The rendering includes simulated subsurface scattering, but with arbitrary parameters. Thanks to Henrik Wann Jensen for computing this image.


Appears in:

Proc. SIGGRAPH 2000


We describe a hardware and software system for digitizing the shape and color of large fragile objects under non-laboratory conditions. Our system employs laser triangulation rangefinders, laser time-of-flight rangefinders, digital still cameras, and a suite of software for acquiring, aligning, merging, and viewing scanned data. As a demonstration of this system, we digitized 10 statues by Michelangelo, including the well-known figure of David, two building interiors, and all 1,163 extant fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae, a giant marble map of ancient Rome. Our largest single dataset is of the David - 2 billion polygons and 7,000 color images. In this paper, we discuss the challenges we faced in building this system, the solutions we employed, and the lessons we learned. We focus in particular on the unusual design of our laser triangulation scanner and on the algorithms and software we developed for handling very large scanned models.

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