element of imagination and creation

CIPA2019: my thoughts after the symposium


Here I am, back from the road again! Just got back from the CIPA2019 symposium on the documentation of Cultural Heritage with lots of ideas and good vibe. Totally pumped!

The 27th CIPA International Symposium is over.

Tag lined as “documenting the past for a better future”, the conference was organized between 01-05 September in the incredibly well preserved medieval city of Avila, 100+ km north-west of Madrid.

This was my second attendance at an international conference in the field of 3D digitization, the first one being Geomatics and Restoration: GEORES 2017 in Florence, also organized by ISPRS and CIPA.

Although I got home yesterday two days ago, I still am very very exhausted physically and mentally. The conference program was really dense with 3 parallel sessions from 9 AM until 5 or 6 plus social events every day that lasted till late in the evening. Actually I barely had enough time to finish my presentation and talk strategy.

Romania’s attendance, or rather the lack of

I know it’s just my second attendance at a conference in my field in these 4 years since I started with 3D digitization but in these both conferences I was the only one from Romania. Also, looking through the GEORES2019 conference program it also seems that there was nobody from Romania.

Perhaps for a future rant, I will make an in-depth research on the Romanian interest on the digitization of Cultural Heritage international symposiums. Because I find it really sad that a country with such a rich heritage closes its eyes to a topic that even the EU deems as critical: the digitization of cultural heritage. The problems raised during these meetings are so complex on so many aspects that it is hard for me to understand how the ongoing national heritage digitization projects are going on and what are their goals, workflow and quality standards.

I guess “better than nothing” is the general motto and leaving behind incomplete and unusable deliverables is not an issue here.

Moving on.

Ethics, standards and good practice as main topics in CIPA2019

We don’t need these in Romania, but let’s see what this symposium had in its sleeves for us.

Speaking of the important problems raised during these conferences, during CIPA2019 there were three key moments when critical issues regarding the way we are doing the digitization of CH were strongly put to question.

First, there was the keynote speech “ The 3D datafication of cultural heritage: more than just a flash in the pan? ” of Geert Verhoeven right on the first day, first speech. Actually all of his keynote was an exclamation mark to the bad practices and the many misunderstandings of this field.

From the start, he adverted that his speech is rated R for the sensible outdated digitizers. I’m going to summarize only a few of his points of the speech.

  • digitization does not preserve the cultural heritage;
  • digital data obsolescence;
  • limited understanding of the limits of application of digitization (only the surface of physical objects) and the need for a broader approach;
  • the irrelevance of aimless data recording;
  • the lack of interest for the understanding of recording quality (what is quality);
  • the overlooked difference between an expert and a casual digitizer;
  • the lack of accessibility to the publicly presented 3D models (less than 3%).
A high-quality photo of one of Geert’s slides: the small fraction of Cultural Heritage the 3D digitization actually deals with

Secondly, Mona Hess‘ keynote speech reiterated and marched upon one of Geert’s observations: cultural heritage is not only the surface we record. She emphasized the importance the EU is giving to the digitization of cultural heritage through its programs, but also the cycle of different emerging technologies’ hype. The main topic she addressed was the approach of the digitization of the intangible cultural heritage with the genius loci meta-concept.

The Ethics panel

Finally, perhaps the most expected event of the conference was the Ethics panel, on the third day. This was a unique chance of seeing together representants of the major players in the world of 3D digitization:
David Myers – Getty Conservation Institute
Andreas Georgopoulos – CIPA
Elizabeth Lee – CyArk
Yan He – Tsinghua Heritage Institute for Digitization
Johnathan Chemla – Iconem
Carlos Bayod Lucini – Factum Foundation
Emily L. Spratt – Columbia University

The panel was moderated by the charismatic Mario Santana, vice president at ICOMOS, and past president of CIPA.

CIPA2019 Ethics panel
The Ethics panel protagonists from left to right: Yan He, Emily Spratt, Elizabeth Lee, Carlos Lucini, Andreas Georgopoulos, Johnathan Chemla and Mario Santana

Surprisingly, the panel attendance was much lower than I expected. Which speaks miles about the community’s interest in these real issues.

Long story short, the topics were well chosen but it seemed like the time was extremely short for a proper discussion and debate upon all of these topics. Just to summarise:
– data usage agreement formats between the owner and the service provider
– the need of updated standardizations (data formats, file naming and metadata, custodians knowledge basics, storage and archiving)
– quality standards
– open-access 3D data review needed
– is online sharing really needed? to what end other than entertainment

Each of these questions and ideas would require days of debate, at which I’d love to participate. But it was important that the key players in this field acknowledged them and hopefully, many of them will be addressed in updated guidelines and standardized policies.

Yeah, for me it was a breath of fresh air to see that other people have the same questions and issues as myself regarding the practice of digitization of CH. though my questions were revolving around just a few of the discussed topics, the whole discussion opened my eyes to all of these issues and made me realize that I still have much more to learn than I thought.

Only by being by part of such a community you can grow and keep up with the collective mind of all the experts so that you don’t end up running aimlessly towards a wall of uselessness and wasted effort. And of course, if you care about the quality and correctness of your activity.

Now let’s get on with the fun stuff.

Tutorial: Photography for 3D modeling in CH

The event started Sunday, early in the morning with a suite of tutorials on different topics in the field of documentation of Cultural Heritage. Of course, I wanted to attend all of them, but I had to choose one. Counter-intuitively instead of choosing a topic like underwater photogrammetry or HBIM, topics I don’t have much experience with, I choose Photography for 3D modeling in Cultural Heritage. A topic I think I’m quite well prepared, even if I am still learning.

And it was a wise decision. I got to meet Geert Verhoeven from Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna. One day before his keynote speech.

Only thing I’m going to say about this valuable training was that it was for the second time I felt someone was talking my language. The first time was in Fulpmes with Hans. Back then, my training was focused solely on data processing and it really changed my perspective on 3D reconstruction and the types of deliverables that should be more important for Cultural Heritage digitization.

This time, Geert’s tutorial was focused on data acquisition. A photographer passionate himself, he had a lot of scientific insight about camera parameters and the preparations for recording a qualitative image set for photogrammetry. I thought my list and workflow was detailed and thorough … I was wrong. Geert pointed out a lot of details that I seemed to overlook. So, my acquisition step workflow just got updated and improved.

CIPA2019 tutorial with Geert Verhoeven
Tutorial start (with some major figures in the field)

Because it was very short, something like 5 hours, it was really packed with a lot of info and tips, most of which I think required some advanced photography skills. If I was in my perfect media feeling like new pieces of the puzzle came together, I wonder if the rest of the attendees felt comfortable with this level of discussion.

My contribution to CIPA2019

My oral presentation was scheduled for the second day of the conference, right after the keynote speeches of that day. So, kind of in the prime time of the conference, when people are still fresh, hyped and curious. I also had the advantage of being in a section with other really interesting works from Mario Santana’s team, Massimiliano Guarneri from ENEA and especially from Dante Abate, whom I really wanted to meet and talk with (which I eventually did).

CIPA2019 macro-photogrammetry_cover
My presentation’s cover slide

My talk went well, could’ve been much better, but I think I tried to squeeze too much information in too little time. So by the time Christian Ouimet, the chair of the section, told me I have past the first 15 minutes from the 18 allowed … I was only starting the experimental data presentation (only the first third of the slides).

Kind of rushed through all the details but I’ve touched all my proposed talking points. And I think I went well over 30 minutes in all. The feedback existed, which is very important, and more importantly it was very positive feedback. Above the average number of questions and interventions during the live Q&A time, but also after and during the rest of the days, people seemed interested and curious about this subject.

But more about my paper and presentation, soon.

Highlights of CIPA2019 – from my POV

Besides everything I mentioned before, there were a lot of very interesting works presented. Too bad I could only attend a maximum of a third of them.

A lot of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning works were presented. Which came like a glove for one of my future research directions. I have almost no background in A.I. and M.L. but attending all these presentations I got a pretty good idea about what I can and should do next in this field.

Many papers presented their case studies in digitization, mostly on monuments. Mario Santana’s team and collaborators had a bunch of presentations with complex case studies in different parts of the world.

Francesco Fassi made in his keynote speech a radiography (I don’t know if that was his intent) of the evolution of digital photogrammetry in the last 11 years. He presented their work on the digitization of the Cathedral in Milan (Duomo di Milano). They started with digital photogrammetry that was manually drawn and processed and ended up 11 years later with the current automated SfM algorithms in programs like Metashape or Reality Capture. Tremendous work, life-changing experience over there. Everybody was impressed.

Speaking of Reality Capture, which were also one of the sponsors of the conference, most of the researchers presented results with Metashape and actually I don’t recall anything with RC. I’m sure there were some, but I didn’t see. Another surprise to me was that 3DFlow Zephyr was also never mentioned …


As I said at the beginning, this conference was a great experience for me. From what I’ve talked and felt from my new acquaintances, everybody felt the same. Very important and interesting contributions, helpful discussions and a generally friendly and inclusive atmosphere. A big hint is the increasing number of papers in AI and ML usage for Cultural Heritage. At least I know I was going to tackle this anyway, so, can’t wait for the future!

A big thanks for the organizers and everyone involved and responsible for every little detail of this great event!

For image gallery, detailed program and other information regarding this conference please visit their website: https://www.cipa2019.org/

Peace and love!

A tired and shaky selfie after the Gala Dinner and the usual stuff to accompany you at such events.

About the author

Laurentiu-Marian Angheluta

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