Bringing WW1 Photographs to Life in 3D

A group of volunteers have helped to curate a World War One themed display case in the Leeds Stories area of Leeds City Museum. As well as carefully selecting objects to put in the case itself, some photographs from the era are shown on a digital display screen.

Instead of showing the original photographs, which are fragile and can gradually fade when exposed to light, the digitally scanned images will be made into a scrolling ‘slideshow’ for visitors to watch, with no danger of the photographs being damaged. This gives us more room inside the display case to put objects in, and also opens up the possibility of trying out new digital techniques to bring some of the images ‘to life’.

Leeds Museums & Galleries have several stereoscopic image cards in the collection, including ones showing scenes from World War One. A stereoscopic card looks like this (see below):

A card showing a black and white image of a building that has been damaged.
A stereoscope card showing ‘Where the Flower of our Army buried back the Prussian Guards, Beury Chateau, Festubert’.

Two side by side images that look almost the same, but when inserted into a viewing device, give an illusion of seeing the scene in 3D. They were popular at the beginning of the last century, and today, many of us are familiar with viewing stereoscopic images on our mobile phones, inserted into devices like the ‘Google Cardboard’.

The stereoscopic cards gave me the idea to try and display the images as 3D on the screen at Leeds City Museum, but without visitors having to use a special viewing device.

The New York Public Library has already been inviting visitors to its Stereograminator website to animate some of its collection of stereoscopic cards, which we found inspiring, but we had concerns about the jerkiness of the image and the strobing effect. After trying out a piece of software called ‘3D Wiggle’ I managed to make these short animated videos that give a flavour of the 3D effect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There were also ‘normal’ (i.e – not stereoscopic) photographs that I attempted to give a 3D treatment, using a website called DEPTHY which was more successful, and I then applied the technique to both ‘normal’ photographs and the stereoscope cards. (With the stereoscopes, I picked one side of the card).

As you can see below, DEPTHY works by the user creating a ‘depth map’ of the image – this means telling the software how far away things are from each other in the image, by drawing it on in different shades of grey. The darker the grey, the nearer the object is in the image.

A screenshot from a computer showing software that shades an old photograph in different shades of grey.
A screen shot from my computer, as I began drawing in the depth map

 

We hope that by making the photos 3D, the viewer will be drawn in and visitors can connect with the people in the photograph in a new way.

By Helen Hesketh, volunteer.

Find out more about Leeds City Museum on our website.

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