The Eternal Egypt project uses a variety of media types to illustrate its content. These include images, image sequences, panoramic images, reconstructions from three-dimensional models and virtual environments.
High-resolution, high-fidelity color images are provided by IBM Research's Pro/3000 Digital Imaging System, which can be used to scan transparencies, reflective art, or three-dimensional objects. A light booth provides uniform lighting, and an integrated turntable allows automatic scanning of a sequence of images of an artifact as it turns. Additional images are obtained from transparencies using a conventional slide scanner. The images feature IBM's patented digital invisible watermark technology to protect usage rights. For this project, 2000 images have been scanned and retouched by CultNat and IBM teams.
Selected artifacts from the collection are represented as three-dimensional models. Although images generated from these models are typically of lower resolution than the scanned images, their versatility allows them to be used to illustrate points which would be more difficult to show with standard two-dimensional images. Two-dimensional images of a modeled object as seen from any direction and under any lighting conditions can be generated, allowing the object to be placed in a virtual scene which could illustrate its use. A three-dimensional model allows us to do things which we would not be able to do with the artifact itself, such as simulate the reconstruction of broken parts.
To create a three-dimensional model of an object, it is necessary to have information describing both the shape of the object and its surface properties. We acquire this data using a unique system composed of a range scanner, a digital color camera, and a set of lights, all mounted on a fixed frame. Small objects can be placed on a turntable in front of the scanner system, or the system can be mounted on a photo stand and moved around to scan large objects. Carefully-designed calibration procedures maintain the accuracy of the system components as they work together.
To scan an object, a number of views from different angles are captured using the scanning system. For a small object we might capture eight equally-spaced views as the object is rotated on the turntable, followed by one or two views each from the top and the bottom; additional views may be needed to "see" inside cavities in the object. For a larger object like the life-size statue of Khafra, 130 views were required. Each view consists of a range image giving distances from the range scanner to the surface of the object and a set of color images taken under various lighting conditions. The position of millions of points on the surface is measured with sub-millimeter accuracy. Unique algorithms developed by the IBM Research laboratories and the IBM Advanced Technology Center in Cairo are used to combine the views, fitting the partial shape scans together and extracting the essential color and surface reflectance parameters from the combination of the color images and the shape information. The result is an integrated, seamless model of the object, describing both its shape and its surface properties, which can be rendered and interactively manipulated on a computer.
For locations around Egypt images are presented as high-resolution panoramas and also as panoramas captured in real time by five robotic cameras positioned on the Giza Plateau, in Islamic Cairo, at Karnak Temple in Luxor, and at the site of the ancient Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria. To show places as they once were or to illustrate the evolution of locations over time elaborate three-dimensional virtual environments have been created. These environments, such as those for the Giza Plateau, Luxor Temple, ancient Alexandria (based on models created by Gabriel Mikhail, Architect, AIA), and the tomb of King Tutankhamun, are composed of dozens of panoramic views from virtual vantage points, views no longer available in contemporary Egypt.
All this visual content is embedded in rich narrative descriptions that explain the significance of the artifacts, people, and places represented. Historical and artistic information is supplemented by details on the relationships of elements to one another and to larger themes in Egyptian history. All textual content for all aspects of the project exists in five languages, English, French, Arabic, Italian and Spanish. Hundreds of researchers, Egyptologists, writers, editors, translators, and "vowelizers" spent over two years compiling this information and weaving it into compelling stories for visitors to the website and for users of the Digital Guide.