The Digital Michelangelo Project

Marc Levoy
Computer Science Department
Stanford University


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, I and a team of 30 faculty, staff, and students from Stanford University and the University of Washington spent the 1998-99 academic year in Italy digitizing the sculptures and architecture of Michelangelo.

Our primary acquisition device was a laser triangulation rangefinder mounted on a large motorized gantry. Using this device and a smaller rangefinder mounted on a jointed digitizing arm, we created 3D computer models of 10 statues, including the David. These models range in size from 100 million to 2 billion polygons. Using a time-of-flight rangefinder, we also created 3D computer models of the interiors of two museums, including Michelangelo's Medici Chapel. Finally, using our rangefinders in conjunction with a high-resolution digital color camera, we created a light field and aligned 3D computer model of Michelangelo's highly polished statue of Night. A light field is a dense array of images viewable using new techniques from image-based rendering.

As a side project, we also scanned the 1,100 fragments of the Forma Forma Urbis Romae, the giant marble map of ancient Rome carved circa 200 A.D. Piecing this map together has been one of the great unsolved problems of archeology. Our hope is that by scanning the fragments and searching among the resulting geometry for matching surfaces, we can find new matches among the fragments.

In this talk, I will outline the technological underpinings, logistical challenges, and possible outcomes of this project.

About the Speaker

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. Levoy's early research centered on computer-assisted cartoon animation, leading to development of a computer animation system for Hanna-Barbera Productions. His recent publications are in the areas of volume visualization, rendering algorithms, computer vision, geometric modeling, and user interfaces for imaging and visualization. His current research interests include digitizing the shape and appearance of physical objects using multiple sensing technologies, the creation, representation, and rendering of complex geometric models, image-based modeling and rendering, and applications of computer graphics in art history, preservation, restoration, and archeology. 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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Last modified: Tue Sep 21 18:59:46 PDT 1999