Release Date: 
Monday, November 16, 2020

Alumnus leads Saganworks team digitizing The Henry Ford’s collections

Image of digitized assets
The Henry Ford recently uploaded its digitized assets via the Saganworks platform. HFC alumnus/Saganworks senior project manager Ben Mazza oversaw the project.

Ann Arbor-based technology startup company Saganworks recently completed a project for The Henry Ford in Dearborn, where the renowned museum uploaded digitized assets and artifacts to the Saganworks platform.

“They then built their own exhibit using these assets along with custom 3D artwork and exhibit fixtures Saganworks provided,” said HFC alumnus Ben Mazza, Saganworks senior project manager. “We connected with The Henry Ford through their marketing and innovation teams about a year ago and discovered some ways that we could pair their expertise and our technologies together. We wanted to focus on initiatives that fit into their strategy, rather than tackling new projects to start, so we honed in on their rich collection of digitized assets. Through this partnership we delivered a wonderful interactive exhibit that’s free for everyone. We hope this is the first of many exhibits we’ll create with them.”

Spatially Accessible Gallery of Archived kNowledge

Saganworks – which has been profiled in the media – is changing the way people store and share knowledge in a 3D world. It is an online and mobile service that provides users with easily accessed, customized 3D rooms that help them organize and recall their knowledge intuitively.

A SAGAN (which stands for “Spatially Accessible Gallery of Archived kNowledge”), a renowned astronomer, astrophysicist, and author) is a virtual room that customers build to keep their knowledge and information in a wide variety of file formats, including audio and video.

For individuals, it may be as simple as creating a gallery of family photos, helping with personal organization, building a portfolio, keeping track of favorite recipes, or organizing class notes. Essentially, it’s a cloud storage service that offers a unique 3D world-building interface layer that users can leverage to construct rooms of knowledge (derived from the files they upload, URLs they save, and photos they take) for a variety of uses, according to Mazza. The applications are limited only by the user’s imagination.

Creating historically accurate 3D models for The Henry Ford

In the case of The Henry Ford, the museum wanted to showcase previously digitized photographs and images, which easily uploaded into Saganworks’ content management system. The Henry Ford has a massive collection of artifacts – more than 25 million.

“We found a project that could take advantage of their rich already-digitized collection,” said Mazza.

Saganworks’ collaboration with The Henry Ford was hosting a collection of photos and images focused on entrepreneurship in the food industry.

“They engaged us to create some historically accurate 3D models that we created from their supplied photo references. This included period-accurate examples such as food sources, transport vessels, storage, and retail packaging. Their digitized collection for this specific SAGAN was about 150 items,” said Mazza. “To help tell this story, the Saganworks team created several 3D models like food storage barrels, trees, and a rather large ketchup bottle. The team also built a fully customized exhibit space for this project. Using these elements, the curation and exhibit design teams at The Henry Ford were then free to use our creation tools to assemble and publish the final exhibit we see today.”

Advantages of digitizing

Mazza explained the advantages of digitizing these artifacts.

“Haven’t you always wanted to handle an artifact on display? See the underside, see inside? Get close on it to see the small details? That’s one of the advantages we have with this digitization process,” he said. “Viewers of these pieces can explore an artifact like never before, appreciate the finer details, learn more about how it was created, and possibly even discover new information about it! Best of all – the original artifact is preserved, thus helping ensure some portion of it can endure even if the original is lost.”

Mazza continued: “That’s one of the reasons we’re making this service. We believe 3D scans and digitized models will become a very common media type and we want to be the platform that hosts it and makes it easy to access and share with others… Our platform and service is extremely flexible in the types of experiences it can create – and we believe Saganworks is a disruptive statement to the question of ‘What is business?’”