Making a Book into a Video

Crucial Perimeter 1 by Islam Aly

Crucial Perimeter 1 by Islam Aly

With the new school year beginning, we are excited to roll out our Fall 2015 exhibit: The Creative Codex: Books as Art in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections! Curated by Preservation Librarian Ashley Jones and Curator of Special Collections Carly Sentieri, it is a visually enthralling exhibit focusing on the physical book itself as a work of art. However, displaying these materials which focus not on printed content but on the objects themselves raises a unique challenge in how to display artist's books behind glass. To address this challenge, Ashley and I decided to create a three-dimensional image of one of books which could be used as part of the exhibit. The item we chose was Islam Aly's Crucial Perimeter 1, Ashley's favorite book in the exhibit. After a bit of research, we went with Autodesk's 123D Catch as a free option for rendering a 3D object out of a series of photographs.

Ashley Jones preparing the book to be suspended with fishing wire for the photo shoot.

Ashley Jones preparing the book to be suspended with fishing wire for the photo shoot

The first question was how to capture the book at every angle. Given that its spine is designed to bend like a Slinky, we had to make sure it was at the same curve for every shot at every angle. We settled on suspending it from the ceiling to be able to photograph it at every angle without having to adjust it. After creating secure bindings to ensure no excessive strain was being placed on the book, we used fishing line to hang the book.

The book hanging from the ceiling in Preservation, ready to be photographed

The book hanging from the ceiling in Preservation, ready to be photographed

Once suspended, I was able to photograph the book at every angle. In the end, it took 70 photos to create the 3D rendering. Overall, 123D Catch does a pretty impressive job of automatically stitching the individual photos together into a 3D model, but sometimes it needed help. Given the symmetry of the book, sometimes it struggled to understand which side was which. Also, while I thought to scatter some materials on the floor below the book to help identify the angles of the photos, I didn't plan for how to manage the repetitive ceiling patterns, which resulted in the photos from below the book being the most problematic in stitching together.

Manual stitching in 123D Catch

Manual stiching in 123D Catch

But when all was said and done, we were able to create a nice little 3D digital version of the artist's book. 123D Catch was able to then turn this into a YouTube video which we now have running on a screen as part of the exhibit and which you watch in King 321 or on YouTube The edges are a little rough, which I would have liked to be able to clean up more but Autodesk's 3D object editor Meshmixer was unable to process the object and in the end we had to accept the version 123D Catch rendered. But we're still pretty happy with the job it does showing the viewer how Aly created such a fascinating object. The Creative Codex is on display in King 321 until December 11, 2015. A reception will be held Thursday, October 22, from 4-6 PM in King 320. A tour of the exhibit will be included, as well as a guest lecture by Diane Stemper, a local artist whose works are featured in the exhibit.

Marcus Ladd

Special Collections Digital Librarian