The 3D replica of Yungang Grottoes now “moveable” around the world

2020-06-14 Global Communications

On June 12 the exhibit “Grace and Gradeur: Memories of Yungang Grottoes through a century” made its debut at Exhibition Hall 2 and 3 of Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archaeology (ZJUMAA). More than 100 artifacts from the collections of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute, including stone sculptures, steles, potteries, and architectural components, are featured. In this exhibition, the reproduce of the world’s first moveable 3D replica of a cave in the Yungang Grottoes allow visitors to fully immerse in the art of Yungang. Over the past three years, the Cultural Heritage Institute of Zhejiang University and the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute have worked closely and made a series of breakthroughs in data collection and processing, structural design, as well as block printing and coloring. This spectacular ancient UNESCO World Heritage site has successfully taken its first step in ‘traveling’ around the world.

The Yungang Grottoes, located in Datong City of Shanxi Province, represent enchanting 5th- and 6th-century Buddhist cave art in China. Among the 45 caves, Cave No. 12, also called the “Cave of Music”, is 14 meters long, 11 meters wide and 9 meters high. In this cave, we can see carved images of gods and different kinds of musical instruments. These gods, who are regarded as the earliest court symphony orchestra in ancient China, are depicted playing musical instruments and dancing gracefully. Therefore, this cave plays a special position in research into ancient China’s music and dance.

Since August 2016, the Cultural Heritage Institute of Zhejiang University has cooperated with the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute and they have collected high-fidelity 3D digital data about Cave No. 12. They made a 3D model to construct cultural relics by adopting 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry. With this model, they first took a total of 55,680 photos. Then, by means of photogrammetry and interactive 3D processing, they produced a high-fidelity colorful 3D model of Cave No. 12.

A "building block" style of production is taken to create a new mode of convenient transportation, installation and display of cultural relics and art exhibitions.

A total of 110 blocks of 2 meters square are assembled in 6 layers to reconstruct the 12th cave. The total weight of these "building blocks" is about 2 tons, which can be loaded with 8 standard container trucks and assembled in a week.

The exhibition structure is made by a lightweight aluminum alloy frame. There is no need to build traditional scaffolding on site. The low-altitude operation group assembles a layer on the ground and hangs it to the top for installation. The whole process is like building blocks from top to bottom, improving assembly efficiency and shortening the installation cycle.

Through this replica, the Yungang Grottoes and their valuable information can thus be permanently preserved in a high-precision 3D digital manner and be displayed at the museums around the world. “One of the primary ways of preserving cultural relics is to chronicle them digitally and set up an elaborate digital document. Through 3D printing, digitalized records can reach the standards of archaeological records. The Yungang Grottoes can therefore ‘become alive’ and ‘go global’, enabling the public to appreciate the charm of history,” said LI Zhirong, vice director of the Cultural Heritage Institute of Zhejiang University.

“Cave No. 12 is a prime example of the successful partnership between the Cultural Heritage Institute of Zhejiang University and the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute. It is also a paradigm of the fusion between technology and art. Technology can become innovative and creative thanks to art and art can enjoy a rebirth and get disseminated thanks to technology,” said LOU Kecheng, executive vice curator of Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archaeology.