Digitally Reproducing

Leonardo da Vinci’s Early Works in

3D Interactive Models

with the Multi-Shot

Reproducing some of Leonardo da Vinci’s early sketches as digital versions, the Department of Architecture at the University of Bologna used the H6D-400c Multi-Shot in combination with their own developed software, ISLe (InSight Leonardo), to create 3D models of these art pieces that are hundreds of years old. These digital renderings hold immense detail, including the true colours of Leonardo’s drawings, the different shades of ink, chalk and metal points, and even the feel of the paper’s fragile surface. Andrea Ballabeni, a research member who is responsible for software development in the Dept. of Architecture at the university, tells us all about how this extremely valuable tool aids art curators and history experts in analysing the work of Leonardo da Vinci even further.


What are some of the hardest elements when it comes to reproducing fine art using photography?

Reproducing fine art through photography is always a challenging task. It becomes extremely complex when dealing with Leonardo da Vinci’s works. Drawings, sketches and drafts were often drawn on fragile paper sheets smaller than an A4. Strokes are extremely thin and sharp, traced with pen and ink, red and black chalk and metal points. Despite their size, the amount of detail is massive.

Using the Multi-Shot camera, how did the Department of Architecture at the University of Bologna create a 3D rendering of da Vinci’s work?

Our research team developed a technique, called ISLe (InSight Leonardo), which is able to acquire an artwork in a non-invasive way and reproduce it digitally in a 3D model. The rendering, in addition to being three-dimensional, not only faithfully reproduces the colours of the drawing but also the surface irregularities, roughness and ink specularities. To represent Leonardo’s works, we wanted to reach a resolution of 50 mm and use state of the art techniques for colour reproduction accuracy. 

This technique involves taking multiple high-resolution images in special lighting conditions. The multiplicity of the images is then used to build the surface map of the drawing and the three-dimensional shape of the sheet. Once the 3D model has been produced and the artwork reproduction projected on it, it can be easily controlled with touch screen computers by means of a simple user interface.


What criteria must be considered for the technique of digitally recreating these art pieces to be effective?

This technique lies on two paradigms. The first one is ‘to be able to feel as if the drawing is in your hands’. It means that the digital model needs to be easy to explore, study and interact with on a touch panel with simple known gestures like pinch to zoom, or moving your hand on the screen to pan, rotate or even flip the sheet – the same gestures that we use daily on our phones.

The second one is ‘show what is not visible to the naked eye’. These drawings are kept in safe places, generally inaccessible by visitors. Reliable, interactable copies of them represent a great opportunity both for the experts, who want to study and better understand these works, and for merely curious people.

Most importantly, in order to be effective, this technique is highly influenced by the quality of the photographs both in terms of resolution and colour fidelity.

We found the Multi-Shot was just perfect for our needs. Leonardo’s originals have been shot at 32300 x 17400 pixels allowing us to reach (and overtake) the 50 mm resolution that we wanted to reach. Besides, the sensor ability to capture colours is amazing. To measure the colour accuracy of the reproduction we used an X-Rite ColourChecker Classic, and exploiting our in-house software called SHAFT for the colour correction, we reached an average ΔE00 error of about 0.89. It is a result that is largely the best we have reached in our 20 years of experience in the field.

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