Geo Week News

October 10, 2012

Pritchard heads new CyArk Europe office


DigiDoc conference right around the corner

GLASGOW, Scotland – If you’re looking for a pure concentration of historic structures people might want to preserve, the European continent is probably where you’d start. With so many cultures, and so much architecture, crammed into a relatively small land area, the opportunities for digital documentation are vast, yet accessible.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that CyArk, the non-profit group dedicated to digital preservation of historic assets, chose Europe as the location for its first satellite office. CyArk Europe will be headed by Doug Pritchard, whose visage you’ve likely seen scanning the face of Mount Rushmore as part of the CyArk-Scottish 10 collaboration to document the South Dakota monument.

Pritchard directed the Rushmore effort while serving as head the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation and head of visualization at Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio. One of the first to latch onto laser scanning as a tool for digital preservation, he’s worked to model Glasgow in remarkable detail, and has also worked with Historic Scotland to document Rosslyn Chapel and Stirling Castle in his adopted home country.

Yes, it may be slightly ironic that a Canadian is heading CyArk Europe, but it’s a small world nowadays. And being made smaller by the kind of technology that can allow anyone in the world to navigate in 3D many of the world’s most significant landmarks, thanks to CyArk.

“I’ve always had a strong personal interest in CyArk,” Pritchard said, over the phone from Glasgow where CyArk Europe will be headquartered, “an almost emotional interest. I remember seeing [CyArk founder] Ben [Kacyra] present a Leica conference maybe six years ago … and he spoke not as a businessman, but from the heart, and it really caught me.”

Pritchard is an architect by education, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone “there are certain buildings that I profoundly love,” and this work with CyArk will help him make sure that even if they’re destroyed or replaced, they’re not forgotten. “Using the digital tools to preserve them just made sense,” he said.

What CyArk has to offer Europe, Pritchard said, “is a genuine attempt to do the best job possible in terms of all aspects of documentation – looking at the current technologies, the different suppliers, and putting it in front of these people and saying, ‘This is moving toward a standard of excellence.’ It’s about using that approach on every project, but also making that approach open to the general heritage market so that it becomes almost like a guide.”

Which is not to say CyArk believes they are the sole keyholder to how digital preservation work should be done, but as a small non-profit organization they can experiment with new technologies and work to establish best practices with a speed that a larger body, like the London Charter, with many stakeholders and a consensus-based approach, might find difficult or inappropriate.

“A slow-moving process can be good,” Pritchard said, “so you don’t jump in too quickly. And given the maturity of laser scanning, that’s not a bad thing … An organization like CyArk is accountable to its peers and heritage bodies, but because it’s a smaller organization there’s a lot more flexibility, and we can be a lot more open to other forms of technology and try them out on particular sites and share those results.”

But CyArk is about more than just data capture, and Pritchard said some of what excites him most about the new job is how he’ll be able to apply his passion for new media in sharing these heritage sites with the world at large.

“Everything from 3D animation to web delivery to designing applications for the iPad, that’s where I come in,” Pritchard said. “My interest is in the visualization components that are based on the documentation … When you can enhance the documentation, you’re looking at repurposing existing data. It could be for promotion of the historic site to potential visitors, for educational material, even for evangelizing to potential funders. That’s extremely important. It’s the combination of all of that that’s extremely exciting for CyArk Europe and for Cyark in general.”

Pritchard and others will be exploring some of these best practices and new uses for documentation data at DigiDoc, a conference Pritchard describes as a “labor of love” that brings together thinkers from throughout the 3D data and visualization community to talk about how new technologies can be applied to digital documentation.

Attendees will begin to converge on Edinburgh, Scotland, on Oct. 22, for two days of presentations and discussions. “It’s just a way to bring in a variety of different people and talents and expose them to the heritage and survey industries of Britain,” Pritchard said. Historic Scotland is the primary sponsor, along with CyArk and Pritchard’s former organizations.

He can’t get too comfortable, though, as he’ll soon be heading out to help with Scottish 10’s next big documentation project: the Eastern Qing Tombs in China.

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