Mar 8, 2016 | By Tess

Most of our readers will remember a story we covered just a few weeks ago about two artists who covertly 3D scanned the famous Bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum in Berlin and released the 3D models online. Many of our readers remained skeptical that the files released by the two artists could have been captured with the Microsoft Kinect that they purportedly used, and as it turns out, those readers and other questioning makers were probably right.

The 3D scanning caper, which was even covered by the New York Times, was heralded as a gesture of political protest and artistic expression, essentially freeing the Egyptian artefact from the European museum. Now, however, it seems that the controversial act may have actually been a hoax.

What first prompted certain makers to think something fishy was going on with the Nefertiti 3D scan was the video released of the secret scanning operation. The artists responsible for the 3D model leak claimed to be using a hacked Microsoft Kinect, which they have smuggled into the museum under one of their scarves. As the video continues, the scarf continually covers the 3D scanner raising questions as to how a full 3D scan could have been captured.

Further, the quality of the released 3D model has been highly contested, as many believed that the quality was too high for even a hacked Kinect scanner. As Fred Kahl, who helped to debunk the story of the 3D scanned bust, explains on his blog, “The video shows the two using a Kinect Xbox controller to capture Nefertiti, and while I have no doubt the artists may have done the Kinect stunt, there is simply no way the scan being distributed was made with a Kinect. Simply put, the scan being distributed which is made of more than 2 million triangles is far too detailed to have been made with that hardware.”

Kahl, who is familiar with Kinect technology even demonstrates with one of his own better-quality scans just what resolution and detail the Microsoft Kinect is possible of capturing—which is astonishingly nowhere near the quality of the Nefertiti bust 3D model.

Of course, while it may be obvious that the video released by the artists does not represent the actual scanning of the released files, the question remains of where the high-quality 3D model of the bust of Nefertiti came from, where did the artists get it from if they didn’t scan it themselves?

Artist and 3D-scanning consultant Cosmo Wenman asked himself the same question and set out to find a possible answer. Wenman came up with two plausible theories of how the high-resolution 3D model of the bust was created, as he explains, “The model that the artists published is of such high quality that I initially thought the scan had to be either the museum’s own unpublished scan, or that the artists had scanned a high-quality replica and were passing it off as a scan of the original.”

In fact, the Neues Museum in Berlin had hired German scanning company TrigonArt to capture a high-quality scan of the Nefertiti bust years ago in 2008. When Wenman compared the 3D scan released by the artists and the preview of the Nefertiti scan on TrigonArt’s website, he found that they bore some striking similarities. “Even in this limited preview viewer, opening it up full screen and zooming in, you can see that every feature—including super-fine submillimeter details—appear to exactly match the model that the artists released,” he says.

The similarities and shared details of both the leaked 3D scan and the TrigonArt 3D scan have led Wenman to believe that the artists did indeed get their 3D data from the museum’s own high-quality scan.

Even now, however, with much certainty that the scanning video was a hoax, the truth remains unclear as the Neues Museum remains silent about their own scan and the artists themselves seem in the dark about where the leaked scan came from. The artists, Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, were apparently given the hacked 3D scanner by an unnamed partner who then dealt with processing the 3D files. According to Nelles, they have no idea where the released scan came from as they were simply passing along the model they were given by this unnamed partner.

It is not everyday we hear such a strange and mysterious tale in the 3D printing industry, and this is sure one for the books. We do hope, whether the mystery of the high-resolution 3D model is solved or not, that the discourse surrounding the issue of digitizing artworks to make them more accessible is not swept under the rug. As Wenman succinctly expresses on his blog, “It’s unfortunate that this story was based on a falsehood. With any luck, though, this will all be for the best, and there will be increased scrutiny of museums’ custody of data, and it will lead to increased public demand for museums to make their 3D data freely available to the public.” We will be sure to keep up with any developments of the story.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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