Image and Archive

Postgraduate students studying Art, Design and Media at the Manchester School of Art recently worked with material from our collections as part of a unit called ‘Image and Archive’. Here, student Laura Scott shares her experience of working a Japanese netsuke from the Manchester School of Art Collection.

My work for this project centred on a process called photogrammetry and capturing the likeness of a netsuke from MMU Special Collections. I was looking, in particular, for examples of Japanese craft and was delighted by the selection of 8 netsuke. Each depicted a figure undertaking a normal day of work, for example, a fan maker, a school teacher or a musician.

The original netsuke, c. 1603 – 1837, ivory

The one that especially caught my eye was the ‘Rat Catcher’. This particular piece had a little secret that I wasn’t expecting. Initially, I was surprised to find a man with a little cat and a box. I soon realised the drawer of the box opened and inside was a tiny rat in the corner.  I was enchanted by this curious object and could not stop taking pictures of it. I took over 50 pictures on my first visit to the collection and it reminded me of photogrammetry. This technique uses photographs, taken from as many angles as possible, to build up a 3D image by tracking how all the points from the pictures fit together, almost like a three dimensional jigsaw.

During my next visit, I set up a camera, lights and a green screen to take 260 photos of the ‘Rat Catcher’. After masking off the background of the images, I could put them into the program to start generating the model. My end goal was to have the finished model 3D printed. I still had a lot of processes to go through, such as cleaning up the model and fixing any flaws, bulking up certain areas that were too delicate to print and then applying the texture map (the photographic detail on the surface of the model) to the edited model.  It was important to keep reapplying the texture map because it was going to be printed in full colour sandstone, so the printed model would show details which the shape alone wouldn’t show.

Once I finished the model, as close to the original object as I could make it, I moved on to experimenting with it. At first I had wanted to make the model realistic to show the capability of this process and how it could be used in recording and archiving artefacts. In some cases, I found it had helped in restoration or preserving the memory of destroyed artefacts.


Laura’s 3D printed model of the original netsuke

The ‘Image and Archive’ group decided on the name ‘Accidental Archive’ for the exhibition of our work created during the unit, so I used that idea of accident or random to edit the model in strange ways. I did this by adding different images to the texture map and changing settings at random, to create different shapes. I’m still finding lots of ways to manipulate the model and I will eventually print off my favourite variations, so they can be displayed in our exhibition.

You can see Laura’s model on display in the Spotlight Gallery on the ground floor of the Sir Kenneth Green Library until Friday 1 April 2016. You can see an animated model of the netsuke using Laura’s scans here.


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