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Restoring a ruin, digitally.

A Monument Unique in Scale

With the cooperation with the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in late 2000 we began a multi-season project to digitally reconstruct a colossal statue of Ramsses II at the site of the Ramesseum in Thebes, Egypt.

Larger even than the two enormous colossi of memnon that stand nearby, this Ramsses II colossus is among the largest ever built by ancient Egyptian hands.  Felled by Christians in antiquity, the monument nonetheless has continued to elicit ardent fascination.  Enspelled was the famed 19th century illustrator David Roberts, and so enspelled many who have glimpsed his gauzy romantic drawings.  He wasn't alone in picturing this colossus as an idealized 'perfect' ruin--this was, in fact, the site that inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias of Egypt.
 

 


The colossus as it appears today.

A Colossal Undertaking

Given the force of the site's presence as a ruin, how is it possible to imagine it rebuilt?  The idea of producing a digital restoration came first in 1996 from Dr. Philippe Martinez, in the form of proposals to Electricité de France (EdF).  Under INSIGHT's auspices, work began in November 2000, and was completed in January 2002.

Starting with the CNRS scholarship to date, our goal was to put the colossus back together.  We were assisted by Dr. Christian Leblanc, who heads the contemporary administration of the site.
 

 


Gazing down at the colossus from the
temporary scaffolding built for our scan work.

Piecing Together History

First we divided the huge number of existing fragments into three groups:  a) gigantic pieces requiring special equipment, b) smaller pieces that were captured with a more portable system, and c) formless pieces that did not require 3D digitizing at all.

There are an estimated 500 fragments extant, piled into the long courses of piled stones seen at right.  Of these, we worked with Dr. Leblanc to select 80 key pieces for our reconstruction.  Each of these pieces was then exhaustively recorded, yielding approximately. 500,000 measurements per fragment.
 

 


At work, with a laser scanner in the foreground..

Shooting the Smaller Pieces

Next, we needed to document each fragment of the monument individually, as it appears to today's visitors.  This effort involved using laser scanning to capture a 3D model of each relevant granite chunk.

Using the same digitizing process, we also captured the southern 'memnon' colossus as a three-dimensional template on which to base our digital reconstruction of the Ramsses II colossus.

 


Scanning was done at night to minimize
ambient lighting spill.

A Look at the Data

The 3D data for a single fragment is shown below (left).  At right, we see another small fragment being digitized.
 


A 3D model of a single fragment, shown spun on a turntable.


Smaller fragments were positioned on caster
plates whenever possible, speeding the scanning.
Working on the Largest Fragments

While collecting our field data for the smaller fragments fragments, we used a separate optical triangulation scanner to document the largest pieces of the colossus, shown in red below (at left).  A detail view of the large fragment field is shown at right, with notations for the many scans required to capture all sides of these larger granite pieces.
 

Overview of the colossus site, with the largest fragments in situ shown in red.
A 3D model of a single fragment,
shown spun on a turntable.
Working on the Largest Fragments

The two monumental fragments, seen at right, required very specialized work because of their enormous size.  Comprising hundreds of square meters in surface area, a total of five days of scanning were required to capture these forms in their entirety.

 


Scanning the largest piece of the ruin.

Assembling the Jig-saw Puzzle

After the field work, we spent many months back in the lab registering the thousands of individual scans we had gathered in the field.  In August 2002, the whole team gathered in Oakland, California to assemble the colossus, using the newly registered pieces.  After a week of assembly and testing different placements, we arrived at the the model shown below.  To the left is a composite view of the most important fragments; to the right is a rendering of the final model.

An exploded view of the most crucial pieces of the colossus.
A computer rendering of the colossus.
Considering a Detail

Since we scanned all of the colossus fragments at <.01m resolution, we are able to render good quality views of specific details, as shown below.  The target resolution of scans ranged from 0.5mm to 7mm, depending on the detail present in the artifacts being scanned and scanning equipment used.
 

Close-up photo of a single fragment.
A computer rendering of piece at left,
joined to another fragment below..
Further Information

For more details, follow the Field Journals for 2000 and 2002 in the selection box below.

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 (c) 2002 Institute for Study and Integration of Graphical Heritage Techniques (INSIGHT)
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Last updated: 12/12/02.