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Laurence Goussu - 4/05/2015

Digital Pompéi : a massive 3D model rendered in Microsoft Edge

On the occasion of Microsoft's "Build" conference in San Francisco between April 29 and May 1, a preview demonstration of the "Digital Pompeii" project was made.  It is a deep technical achievement from a project developed in France which was introduced: a visualization scenario of the full 3D model of this world heritage archaeological site as well as an interactive virtual navigation experience via the Microsoft Edge Windows 10 web browser. This great step forward is the fruit of an exemplar collaboration between academic, public and private organizations: Microsoft Research and Inria, through their joint research center in Paris, and the French startups Iconem and Cintoo3D. The broader ambition of this project is to propose a new approach to 3D cartography of cities and major urban centers.

An extraordinary technical challenge applauded by the developers community

In introduction to the Gaming sequence at the morning keynote of the Build event on Tuesday April 30, Microsoft's Redmond VP of Developer eXperience Steve Guggenheimer choose to highlight a research and innovation initiative in graphics: the “Digital Pompeii” project.

Thanks to the Babylon.js Open Source 3D engine the demo highlighted a web based visualization scenario of a "massive" 3D model of Pompeii, and an interactive virtual exploration experience above the famous archaeological site.

"Digital Pompeii" is a technical proof of concept, foreshadowing as well a digital platform for helping managing the archaeological site, as a more "mainstream" interactive discovery application that could see the light in the coming months.

According to Isabelle Ryl , Director of the Inria Paris Rocquencourt Research Center , "Digital Pompeii is an exemplary result of a project initiated in France, firstly in the form of a research project, then as an innovation project that followed on from a technology transfer. It is the fruit of an original collaborative effort between public research institutions and private companies: Inria, Microsoft France, the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Center, the startups Iconem and Cintoo3D, plus CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) and PSL Research University, in close coordination with the Superintendent of Pompeii."

Step one: capturing pictures from the 8 km² of the archaeological ruins and creating a 3D model with an accuracy within centimetres

The creation of this 3D model has no precedent. It is the result of the application of photogrammetry techniques on a hitherto unprecedented scale: that of an entire city. To cover the entire site, Iconem took 30,000 photos from an altitude of 30 meters using a drone and a captive balloon. The 3D model was then created by the means of Inria research algorithms thanks to 1,200 hours of compute time in the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

"The starting point of this project dates back to 2009, when we brought together researchers into a multi-disciplinary team at the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre to explore the application to archeology of 3D reconstruction techniques from digital pictures using the PMVS software (http://www.di.ens/pmvs). With Hélène Dessales, senior lecturer at ENS and expert in Roman architecture, we studied and modeled for the very first time the Villa of Diomedes, one of the biggest private residences in Pompeii, before considering the extension of this approach to the entire site" , explains Jean Ponce , lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Director of the joint CNRS/ENS/Inria Willow team.

"It is a big technical achievement: to build a complete model of a site as vast and complex as Pompeii is a an unprecedented scale challenge set to our experimental algorithms from our research projects, and demands the considerable computing power, obtained through the Microsoft Azure Cloud. This exemplary collaborative effort allows us to explore our past, to share our common cultural heritage, and it will help us to better understand history and how Romans lived in a city which was mostly destroyed and buried under 4-6m of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD " claims Bernard Ourghanlian , National Technology and Security Officer at Microsoft France.

Step two: 3D rendering in a web browser and demonstration in Microsoft Edge

The partners in the "Digital Pompeii" project then approached the startup Cintoo3D to design the rendering and the interactive manipulation of the "massive" 3D model of Pompeii in a simple web browser. By integrating their SmartMesh 3D model compression technology with the Babylon.js 3D Open Source engine (based on the HTML5, WebGL and JavaScript web standards), Cintoo3D succeeded in displaying the 15 giga pixels of texture and the 10 million triangles in the 3D model of Pompeii at 60 FPS with a compression ratio of 44:1 in the Microsoft Windows 10 Edge Web browser.

"Streaming and rendering of very high-resolution 3D models, on any hardware and in any place, are becoming a reality" , exclaims Leonardo H. Fonteles , President of Cintoo3D. "Our SMARTMESH and SMARTCLOUD solutions, now integrated with the Babylon.js engine, have opened the way to new usages with a quality of experience that was unconceivable until now."

"Digital Pompeii": how archeology and urban planning can benefit from the shift to digital

This technological proof of concept paved the way for the development of lightweight photo survey techniques (by means of drones and balloons), for 3D reconstruction engines based on calculations and storage in the Cloud, and to presentation tools based on streaming techniques to devices of any form factor (PC, tablet, large screen, augmented or virtual reality devices, etc.). Production made quickly and at a reasonable cost, make possible the application of this approach to a large number of archaeological or urban planning needs, and is not limited to just a few sites of major importance. Indeed, the broader ambition of this project is to propose a new approach to 3D mapping of cities and large urban areas.

"Sadly, recent conflicts and natural disasters show just how fragile our historical heritage is, like the Ddharahara Tower in Kathmandu which collapsed following the violent earthquake that struck Nepal recently, or the destruction of emblematic monuments in Syria and Iraq. It is now essential to take benefit from these technological advances to help systematically protect the endangered archaeological sites and preserve our collective memory for the generations to come" comments Yves Ubelmann , founder and CEO of Iconem.


Inria, the digital science research institute, promotes “scientific excellence in the service of technology transfer and society”. Graduates of the world's top universities, Inria's 2,700 employees rise to the challenges of the computer sciences and mathematics. Thanks to its flexible model, Inria is able to explore original ways of working with its partners in industry and academia so that it can quickly respond to the challenges of the digital economy, which requires new applications drawing on multiple disciplines. Inria is at the forefront of many innovations that create added value and jobs.
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Microsoft Research
Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Its goals are to enhance the user experience on computing devices, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and invent novel computing technologies. Researchers focus on more than 55 areas of computing and collaborate with leading academic, government and industry researchers to advance the state of the art in such areas as graphics, speech recognition, user-interface research, natural language processing, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, and the mathematical sciences. Microsoft Research employs more than 800 people in five labs located in Redmond, Wash.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; Beijing, China; and Bangalore, India. Microsoft Research collaborates openly with colleges and universities worldwide to enhance the teaching and learning experience, inspire technological innovation, and broadly advance the field of computer science. More information can be found at

Microsoft France
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (MSFT on the NASDAQ index) is the world's leading provider of software, services and solutions that allow the general public and professionals to achieve their full potential thanks to digital technology. Created in 1983, Microsoft France employs 1,500 people. Alain Crozier has been the President of Microsoft France since July 2012.
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Iconem was founded in 2012 by Yves Ubelmann with the vision of developing digital solutions to investigate, understand and share cultural heritage. Contact: -

Cintoo3D , created in July 2013 as a CNRS and University of Nice spin-off, innovates and develops technological solutions to help 3D software companies to improve transferring, storing and visualization of massive 3D models. Thanks to its expertise, Cintoo3D proposes support, services and training to professionals.Contact: -

Keywords: 3-D visualisation Microsoft research Pompei Digital Pompei Virtual navigation Archeology