International Team Completes 3D Survey of Mount Rushmore

A team of digital preservationists climbed all over Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, and T. Roosevelt with Leica Geosystems 3D scanners to create a complete 3D digital model of the cultural treasure.

3D scan data blended with a photo, showing initial results of scanning Mount Rushmore.

[Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit the slideshow referenced in the article.]

Mount Rushmore, the famous mountain-size busts of four American presidents, has now been completely scanned in 3D. The two-week effort required five laser scanners operated by three teams, who both scanned the mountain from locations at the base and climbed on and on top of the sculptures to shoot from every necessary angle.

The project was organized by CyArk, an international non-profit organization whose mission is to digitally preserve cultural heritage sites by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies. CyArk worked in partnership with the National Park Service, Historic Scotland, and the Glasgow School of Art. Leica Geosystems provided the laser scanning technology.

In addition to the photos accompanying this article, Leica Geosystems has prepared a fascinating online slideshow that depicts the complete Mount Rushmore project, at:

“This was the most complex project ever undertaken by CyArk, “ says Project Manager Justin Barton, who adds that three different Leica Geosystems laser scanners were used; the ScanStation 2 for long-range shots, the HDS6100 for dense data capture at closer range, and the ScanStation C10 as the “workhorse atop the mountain” for mid-range work.

CyArk climbers in position for a facial close-up

Each model was strategically placed within the site to take advantage of individual strengths. For example, the long-range capabilities of the ScanStation 2 were used along the base of the mountain, the speed of the 6100 was used for very dense data capture of facial details and the surrounding canyon, and the C10 [was the] workhorse atop the mountain for large-scale scans of the sculpture.”

In spite of snow and rain, well over 200 scans were collected in the two-week period on site. The digital record of the sculpture and park grounds will serve ongoing preservation efforts of the National Park Service, while the 3D content created from the scan data will be used to create interactive virtual models of the monument, including virtual tours of the entire site and 3D educational games. “Thanks to the efforts of all team members, the project was a huge success,” says CyArk Director of Projects and Development, Elizabeth Lee.

In all, billions of millimetrically-accurate points were captured, along with more than 7,000 photographs. Data from all scanners was processed by Leica’s Cyclone software, in a command center that managed over ten terabytes of hard drive space. Data was compiled and registered continuously, to ensure that no vital areas were missed and that field teams had up-to-date data when planning each day’s work. Cyclone was also used to present point cloud data to visitors and park officials during the two weeks the teams were on site.

“The Mount Rushmore project, which generated massive amounts of precise data in a short time frame, is a good example of what our tools can accomplish,” brags Michael Harvey, Product Marketing Manager for Scanning at Leica Geosystems.

Scanning from “The Chins” located under Theodore Roosevelt's chin.