Life in 3D

I’ve been taking a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on Archaeology at for the last month or so, and have really been enjoying it. Each week’s lesson includes a set of videos, readings, exercises, and a quiz. For this week’s topic, “What do you do with what you find?”, I chose an exercise that involved installing and using a (free!) 3D modeling program called 123D Catch.

The estimated time for the exercise was 2 hours, and I suppose I could have stopped after spending  just that. But of course I needed to create more than one model, and then I needed to tweak-tweak-tweak. I’m guessing I have about 14 hours into it by now.

The best of these models was of a sundial at the Cornell Plantations. Here’s a screen print of the output. The software provides an embed code to publish a navigable version on your web site, but the embed doesn’t work on… so here’s a link to the manipulable 3D: or you can watch a video of it at

Sundial 3d screenshot

Sundial Screenshot

To create the model, I took 64 shots from about 5 feet away from the sundial. The software has an option to show the camera angles:

Sundial screenshot with cameras

Sundial screenshot with cameras

There is also an option to manually stitch the photos, so if it’s missing something, you can let it know where to get the information. The automatically generated version of the sundial was pretty good, but the smaller items required a lot of manual stitching.

The end result was a little like a Quicktime VR with a lot more detail, and a little like a video game. Lots of fun, in a nerdy way.


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