Sculpture saved by animation

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Once it was predicted that computer animation would make fine art redundant. Now that same technology looks like ensuring that works of art are preserved for eternity.

A work by the leading British sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi has recently been restored to its original form using a mixture of high-level graphics and virtual reality and conservators are predicting that similar restorations will follow.

Hamlet in a Japanese Manner, a three-part brightly coloured aluminium sculpture, was first shown in 1966 and had since been stripped down to its aluminium parts. After it was chosen for A Century of British Sculpture, due to open in June in Paris, conservators found that there were few records of how it had originally looked.

"This is actually a very common problem," said Caroline Douglas, the British Council's exhibitions officer. "But . . . eventually we managed to locate three photographs."

Two conservators at the Tate Gallery, in London, were then asked to restore the work to its original design and colours.

Tessa Jackson, one of the conservators, said they had been close to giving up when they met Rob Potter, director of a computer animation company, Channel 20-20.

Using the photographs, Channel 20-20 produced a three-dimensional image from which they were able to piece together the original design. They then used a virtual image of the sculpture superimposed on to the screen design in order to "trace" the design and paint on to the actual sculpture.

Ms Jackson said the technology had ensured that the finished product was "as accurate as it's going to get".

The animation work would have cost the Tate pounds 60,000 (the company did not charge full rate) and the gallery is "very interested" in using it again.

The sculpture will go on display in Paris on 4 June before returning to its owner, Kelvingrove gallery in Glasgow.