Art & E-Commerce Innovations: 3D Scanning (Recording + Highlights)


What is 3D scanning, and should my art organization use it?

This week on ArtEvolve we were joined by Matthew Ager, Founder of Tomorrow Contemporary, a London-based company that digitally captures objects and artworks using a line of laser light and photography.

Partnering with a friend, Matthew developed the idea for Tomorrow Contemporary during the pandemic. When museums and galleries are closed – or visitors are far away and unable to travel – how do you show artwork to the world?


So, how does it work?

With various tools and techniques available the 3D scanning process varies. As Matthew explained, Tomorrow Contemporary works in situ, traveling to the artwork rather than the artwork coming to them. (After all, art movement is inherently risky and often costly). Once on site, they set up multiple cameras, lighting, and color-checking equipment, and collect thousands of images of the object. Their aim is to mimic reality as closely as possible, collecting the data they need to show the object in exceptional detail.

In post-production, the team adds other effects such as the reflectivity or gloss of the object, and the desired lighting. The final product – an OBJ file – can then be used in a number of different ways.

During the webinar, Matthew showed us a few of the pieces he had worked on, manoeuvring the objects and viewing them from all angles. As well as a 360-degree view, we saw the intricate detail captured by the 3D scanning process – cracks and crevices in plaster, the texture of a chicken wire structure, wood grain, and so on.

Zebedee Armstrong (1988), Doomsday Clock, Pen on wood, 22.5 x 30 x 15 cm

How has 3D scanning developed in recent years?

Much of the technology involved in 3D scanning has been developed outside of the art world and used in commercial settings such as high-end real estate, architecture, and other private enterprises. While other industries have been utilizing 3D scanning for a while, it seems that the pandemic has opened the art world’s eyes to its potential applications.



How can 3D scanning be used in the art world?

Virtual gallery tours
. Using a 360 camera and software such as Matterport or Metareal, Tomorrow Contemporary also creates virtual tours of existing spaces. This allows galleries, such as Stephen Friedman Gallery, to enable digital exhibition viewing at a time when physical visits are increasingly difficult. Tomorrow Contemporary also create new spaces, virtually constructing viewing rooms and entire galleries, which can then be curated to the client’s specifications.


Digitizing archives and collections. While digitizing collections has long meant uploading one or two photos of each object to a website, or making the collection management system more accessible to the public, this could be done differently with the utilization of 3D scanning. Taking into account the cost implications, museums and galleries would not be able to 3D scan their entire collections, but instead could choose to highlight a few key pieces and make them accessible in greater detail and to wider audiences than before. Take a look at Waddesdon Manor for example – their virtual rooms show parts of the manor not always open to the public and fragile objects that can’t normally be viewed up close.


Facilitating sales. Other industries are already using 3D scanning to drive sales and there’s lots of potential for the art world to do the same. Virtually placing an object in the home of a collector, for example, or showing a piece via an app and seeing what it would look like in the different settings captured on the device’s camera.


Thank you to our guest speaker Matthew Ager, Founder of Tomorrow Contemporary, for joining us.