Engineering students build camera rig for the Met
Senior design project becomes part of museum’s equipment for imaging permanent exhibits
It became much more than a senior design project when the engineering students set foot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In October, when on an initial trip to collect information for the project, most had never been to the museum, let alone New York before. On Thursday, May 15, after several months of work, their custom-made camera rig became a part of the museum’s operations and imaging efforts.
Seven students from the Kate Gleason College of Engineering delivered and installed a Vertical X-Y Camera Rig they designed and built for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They had worked over the past academic year with Susan Farnand, assistant researcher in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, to upgrade a stationary, ceiling-mounted camera rig in the museum’s imaging studio used to take high-resolution images of artwork. But the museum also had other works of art that needed to be imaged, and having a mobile unit to photograph these larger, permanent installations was necessary.
Farnand originally worked with Barbara Bridgers, general manager for imaging at the museum, on previous color reproduction projects. Being both an engineer and imaging researcher, Farnand was familiar with the imaging needed at the museum as well as the capabilities of the engineering college, particularly its multidisciplinary senior design program, where students are required to complete design projects over an academic year using engineering and product design methodologies.
She proposed the Metropolitan Museum project, and the students started work this past fall. Thursday, they saw their work onsite and ready to be used.
The students had traveled for the first time to New York City in October to meet with the museum representatives and developed the design requirements for the portable imaging equipment rig.
“I thought having the team actually see the works of art the museum staff was going to image would be really helpful,” she said. “It was really exciting for the guys because there was one who had never been to New York before. They saw the city and the museum and what goes on behind the scenes.”
Working closely with the museum staff, particularly Bridgers and Scott Geffert ’84 (photographic illustration), the senior imaging systems manager, they designed a custom camera rig.
“The students met with the museum’s engineering staff on Thursday morning to review the construction, operation and safety features of the rig. Other departments have collaborative relationships with students in colleges and universities,” said Bridgers. “This, however, is the first time the Photographic Studio collaborated with a group of students to solve an imaging issue.
“Working with the students was great,” she continued. “They were serious, grasped the problem we were trying to solve, listened carefully to our requirements and took those issues and concerns even further. They understood the implementation in the museum could not be taken lightly and undertook their work with seriousness of purpose.”
The museum is known for its extensive collections of artwork, including tapestries and textiles from around the world. Having the portable imaging rig allows the group to take photographs in the galleries, and decreases the need to move delicate materials.
The overall system was designed around a winch-driven material lift, said Sam Brown, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student. It can be raised 22 feet, a few feet beyond the required 18 feet the museum requested. It also includes a customizable rail system that the main structure will move along, extending up to 29 feet. The mechanical systems—the horizontal and vertical traverse structures, the rails and camera mounts— as well as the electrical systems consisting of several motors and Arduino microprocessors—were all built and assembled at RIT.
“We lived in the machine shop,” said Zack Sostack, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student.
The system is capable of doing precise position measurements that include the pan and tilt function for the camera base, and it can run automatically or manually.
“This rig allows them to wheel it to the artwork, to hoist up the lighting, for the rig to go up and down, back and forth across the artwork,” Brown explained. Structural mounts will be able to hold more than 200 pounds of equipment and rigging on a base that weighs more than 300 pounds.
“It is elegant in its simplicity,” said Farnand. “They worked really hard and I’m impressed with the whole team, and the senior design program in general. It’s a great experience for the students. They get the opportunity to work with real customers and build things that these customers are actually going to use.”
The camera rig will be tested throughout the summer by the studio and engineering staff at the museum. Bridgers expects the camera rig to be used to photograph one of the museum’s exhibits of eighteenth-century rooms from English homes called the Croome Court tapestry room. It was part of a country estate in Worchestershire, England designed by Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792). It featured elaborate tapestries on the walls that extend from floor to ceiling.
“The room is the art,” said Brandon Strangman, a fifth-year industrial and systems engineering student. “This is where the need for our project came in.”
Bridgers agreed. “Every surface area has to be photographed precisely, and the images have to be high enough detail to see the thread count. That’s what we are trying to do with this type of work.”
Between designing and building the rig, displaying it at the recent Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, preparing for their formal senior design presentation about the project and disassembling the rig to get it to New York, the team members had little time to reflect on the experience.
“We’ve been thinking throughout the semester more along the lines of we have to finish this,” said Strangman. “We haven’t had time to stop and smell the roses. But, it’s cool to think that something we’ve done is going to be used in the museum.”
The team members are: Brandon Strangman (industrial and systems engineering, Shortsville, N.Y.), Samuel Brown (mechanical wngineering, Dryden, N.Y.), Zachary Sostack (mechanical engineering, Cooperstown, N.Y.), Kyle Bradstreet (mechanical engineering, Webster, N.Y.), Daniel Kearney (electrical engineering, Baldwinsville, N.Y.), Daniel Jang (electrical engineering, Queens, N.Y.) and Matthew Misiaszek (mechanical engineering, Stockbridge, N.Y.).
A video of the camera rig is available, produced by Matthew Misiaszek.
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