Virtual Recollection (2016)

Virtual Recollection (2016)

Ryan Achten

Virtual Recollection: Artifact Engagement in Three-Dimensional Environments (2016)

The Summer Scholarship project in 2015 with the National Library of New Zealand/Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa revealed that simply making 3D printers available in libraries does not ensure that they will be used in any meaningful way, nor does it necessarily enhance the library’s reason for being as a repository and archive.  Before any potential benefits can be realised, the 3D printer needs to be put into context, or empowered by new systems of making.

As a digital media design student, Ryan Achten brought a special perspective to this proposition. His thesis identifies an opportunity within cultural institutions to extend the practice of digital archiving by representing artefacts in 3D form and space. Current standard practice for digitisation is to scan or photograph items as two-dimensional digital representations. This is adequate for capturing written information and it has also become common for physical artefacts within library and museum collections. But in these instances, only a facet of an object can be represented and the utility of their form is lost altogether

In response, Ryan prototyped a web based interface called Vertice using the game engine Unity 3D. The software allows users to upload either ‘born’ digital objects (such as CAD files, code for gaming, video for animation) or surrogates of 3D objects produced through precision scanning and photogrammetry, for assimilation into a digital archive. By adopting a gaming engine as the software framework for this archive interface, unique forms of engagement are able to emerge, allowing users to inspect, browse, and curate three-dimensional media in ways previously precluded, either as a result of restricted access to the physical object itself or the limitations of the two-dimensional representation. It also opens up the narrative potential in artefacts and their surrounding environment, made possible through three-dimensional representation.

When utilized within a library environment Vertice becomes both a powerful finding aid and interpretive medium with the opportunity to output 3D printed smart objects. In a museum environment Vertice may serve a stronger curatorial function by aiding curators in making links across associated objects in its database and allowing these objects to be quickly and easily test printed for mock up display.

The Vertice platform would allow cultural institutions to easily move physical objects from inaccessible storage, and born digital media currently not yet accounted for, into a space where user engagement with these artefacts may continue to shape a nation’s cultural memory and identity.

On completion of his thesis project, Ryan was introduced to the world of commercialisation with support and funding from Wellington UniVentures and the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) to take Vertice to the next level. In collaboration with Tim Bathgate and mentorship from Michael Elwood Smith at Loomio Ryan produced a live site and video documentation of Vertice while gaining valuable professional experience as a digital designer and developer.

Materials and Processes


Adobe Bridge, Agisoft Photoscan, VisualSFM, Meshlab, Cinema 4D, Unity 3D, C#, Pixologic Zbrush

Project level

Master of Design Innovation Research Portfolio submission (MDI), supervisor Walter Langelaar

External Partners

The project was supported by the National Library of New Zealand and the New Zealand Product Accelerator.  

Backstory: Journal of New Zealand Art, Media & Design History

Vertice has been open-sourced via GitHub.