On Memorial Day 2014 the US National Park Service and Autodesk announced for the first time in over 30 years that a scientific survey of the USS Arizona had been competed using the latest in technology. I wanted to share my personal experience and stories behind the scenes having spent several months on this amazing and historic project.
The USS Arizona is the final resting place for the majority of the ship’s 1,777 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The 184-foot memorial structure, spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship, was built to honor American servicemen and civilians who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, on December 7, 1941.
Press release: National Park Service and Autodesk Carry Out First Comprehensive Digital Survey to Preserve the USS Arizona and Memorial
A quote from Autodesk project leader Pete Kelsey:
"What a fantastic example of how reality computing can give context, meaning and evoke deep, emotional responses to such an important part of our nation's history. The team could not be more honored to share the results of the Arizona Memorial survey with Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans everywhere, and the public on this very special Memorial Day."
Strategic Projects Executive at Autodesk
Behind the Scenes of the Project:
In the Fall of 2013 I was asked if I would be interested in a very special reality capture project to assist in creating 3D geometry of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor using many types of technologies. I had participated in several other complicated 3D capture projects like the project in Northern Kenya with the Turkana Basin Institute and Dr. Louise Leakey. Of course I did not hesitate and agreed to participate. Autodesk's Pete Kelsey was leading the project with several companies donating time and technologies to the project of digitally preserving the USS Arizona.
In November 2013 we arrived on site and performed our series of SCUBA dives and surface data collection projects. We were laser scanning the USS Arizona Memorial and underwater capturing photos of the USS Arizona to generate 3D models using Autodesk ReCap Photo a cloud based photogrammetry technology that converts photos to 3D textured geometry. We had partners that performed terrestrial LiDAR setting survey points to geo-reference the USS Arizona geometry to, and Multibeam Sidescan SONAR.
Some of the unexpected things I learned on the first project visit was how much different the conditions on the ship were compared to what I had expected them to be. I had expected the ship to look like a ship when in fact it appeared more like an organic structure with all the corals, algae, fish, and covered in silt. Nature has taken over. You could see the original teak wood deck in spots because some fish would clean it with their tails to spawn. Some of the metal was polished due to sea turtles rubbing themselves on the metal rods.The water visibility was only a couple feet and you had to deal with a great deal of oil all over you when the winds were low.
We were up by 5am and at the site around 7am then worked on the ship until late afternoon and then went back to the hotel to process the data until late at night and repeated it again for several days continuously. I was a little nervous taking my personal expensive DSLR camera underwater, but the opportunity was worth it. We also did a dive on the USS Utah to test our gear.
Two of the 3D models we created on that first trip were of iconic artifacts from December 7th, 1941 and still remaining on the wreckage of the USS Arizona. One model was a coke bottle and the other a cooking pot. The 3D textured models created using ReCap Photo turned out very well. The idea to 3D print the models seemed a real possibility and everyone believed it would be quite compelling to allow people to hold a physical representation of a current artifact still resting on the deck of the USS Arizona. We printed the first set on our Stratasys 3D printer in a clear material and people loved them. I then asked Whiteclouds.com if they would 3D print in color. The resulting 3D prints were amazing and everyone that seen and held them could not put them down. Pearl Harbor survivors including a USS Arizona survivor Don Stratton was amazed to see the 3D print and hold it in his hands.
"When presented with the 3D print of the cooking pot for the first time, Stratton said, “That is amazing. I don’t know anybody in the galley that survived that day. At the time of the explosion, it was self-preservation. After that, it was extremely hard to return. Now, when I go back and remember, it’s a little easier. I think it [3D artifacts] will make an impression on a lot of people, I really do.”
The team returned and assembled to the USS Arizona to perform multiple dives again in April 2014 to complete the 3D capture project where we did subsea LiDAR, handheld SONAR, and more photogrammetry. This was no typical Hawaii trip as it was long hot days when on the dock and physically demanding long SCUBA dives photographing and locating artifacts and ship locations in less than ideal water conditions and being aware of the inherent dangers in SCUBA and in diving this location. It was an amazing experience to be part of the historic digital survey and a first where multiple technologies were used in a single unified model of an underwater structure.
While all the project was memorable there were moments that stood out.
- Being so tired after a dive that I fell asleep at the memorial on the dock under the walkway in my wetsuit. I awoke to tourists walking by taking photos of me.
- When running the underwater LiDAR scans at night on the USS Arizona it looked like an underwater disco light show. I thought for sure we would have attracted the attention of local residents of others in the area.
- The USS Arizona Memorial is an amazing place but unfortunately no civilian gets to see it at night when it seems to be even more beautiful and peaceful. We had the memorial all to ourselves at night.
- Pete Kelsey and myself got a adrenalin inducing ride in a US Coast Guard helicopter to capture photos of the USS Arizona Memorial from the air to generate a 3D model. I was tethered on a old canvas gunners belt and hung out the open door for almost 20 minutes with my camera. The USCG flight crew were top notch in addition to great sense of humor.
- Watching a spotted eagle ray swimming around the memorial at dusk or encountering a sea turtle on the ship.
- Swimming through the leaking fuel oil or seeing pools of oil in overhead areas looking like a black lava lamp when you moved your hand near it. It was not easy to get the oil off of the equipment or your skin. The leaking oil as been called the tears of the USS Arizona.
- Looking at old shaving kits, kitchen floor tiles, and an officers quarters seeing the overturned desks and thinking of the people that used them the morning of December 7th, 1941.
- Speaking to a few WWII survivors of Pearl Harbor. The stories were amazing and as vivid as the day in their minds.
- Did you lose a pair of white Oakley sunglasses when looking over the USS Arizona Memorial? Well I found them when diving on the wreck. I seen several pairs of glasses and other stuff accidentally dropped onto the USS Arizona found as we continually cleaned up the ship. We even retrieved an American Flag left down there and not from the original ship.
- Looking at a LiDAR scan and seeing a fish in the point cloud. I called the point cloud "Finding Nemo". No fish were harmed as they just flee when they see the tripod mounted laser LiDAR.
- Taking a quick underwater photo that was taken while swimming past turret 4 where some have been interned. With no post processing the suns ray were shining down into the turret 4. It gave me goose bumps.
- Being one of the people to ever be able to say they have SCUBA dived on the USS Arizona in a research project.
- Most emotional moment was after a long week of diving and processing data 18 hours a day 7 days a week was after finally walking up to the USS Arizona Memorial wall and realizing I had a relative W.R. Hurley Musician 2nd Class that perished during the attack in 1941 that I as not aware of. It is difficult to put that moment into words.Later in the press conference two survivors of the attack brought up the USS Arizona band members and I sat in shock, my relative was in that band. I feel a real connection with the USS Arizona now and will never forget it for as long as I live.
Project Credit list:
• US National Park Service (Owner) Paul DePrey, Scott Pawlowski, Daniel Martinez, Sly Lee, Brett Seymour, Dr. Dave Conlin, Billy Crowe
• HDR (Project Manager) Jim McConnell, Sally Maddock, Derek Jennings
• Autodesk (Underwater Photogrammetry, Autodesk ReCap, ReCap Photo, Autodesk Infraworks) Dominique Pouliquen, Shaan Hurley, Mike Gemmell, Pete Kelsey, Angela Simoes, Rick Johnston, Craig Barr, Mitko Vidanovski
• Sam Hirota, Inc. (Land Surveying, Terrestrial Laser Scanning) Dennis Hirota
• Oceanic Imaging Consultants, Inc. (Multibeam Sidescan SONAR) Dr. Tom Moore
• 3D at Depth (Subsea LiDAR) Mark Hardy, Carl Embry, Brett Nickerson
• Shark Marine Technologies, Inc. (Diver Portable SONAR) Jim Garrington, Mike Aitken
• United States Coast Guard - Barbers Point (Flight Support)
• US Navy Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One (Dive Support)
• Whiteclouds.com (Color 3D Prints) Jerry Ropelato, Kyle Gifford
A BIG thank you to the many that assisted in this amazing project, and certainly many more to participate in the future as the project data processing is still in progress. The stretch goal is to publish the full 3D ship model to be used for education, preservation, and studies. Creating intelligent 3D models brings to life the USS Arizona and provides the public with an opportunity to actually touch a bit of history.
We also hope to do more projects like this around the world to preserve and digitally document different underwater structures some of importance to other countries.