Stonehenge for everyone – through 3D and AR

In 2021 Martin Edström was assigned by National Geographic Magazine (NGM) to make a complete 3D-model replica of Stonehenge. So together with the IVAR Studios team, he captured over 7000 images to recreate this historic landmark site using a process called photogrammetry.

The 3D-model has since then been converted to an Augmented Reality (AR) experience, launched on the National Geographic instagram account – making it possible for everyone to visit Stonehenge from the comfort of their living room, garden or in a public space.

Since then, the Stonehenge AR filter has been shortlisted for several awards and won 1st place in Pictures of the Year International 2023 as part of the larger magazine publication.

You can also read NGM’s Letter from the editor about the process.

Martin Edström (right) and Oliver Akermo (left) working on tripods to capture source imagery for photogrammetry of Stonehenge.

A highly detailed capture process

Martin and his team used a process called photogrammetry to recreate Stonhenge as a 3D-model. This process relies on a large input of images, the dataset, that is feed to a computing algorithm that can calculate point-clouds and 3D-data from the source images.

A detailed map of all the stones that make up Stonehenge – including smaller ones that are barely visible.

While this might sounds easy enough, it involves a lot of planning and a high attention to detail while photographing – as reality is often more complex than you might think at first glance. While many people think of Stonehenge as a few slabs and boulders, the heritage site actually consists of over 120 different pieces of stone.

All of these rocks have to be photographed, from every possible angle, to recreate a high detail 3D model in the end. So before heading to the field, the team made a fully choreographed photo list – including both high-resolution mirrorless cameras used on the ground and drone camera to cover the top of Stonehenge.

Martin Edström, Paul Joy and Oliver Akermo in front of Stonehenge

Post-production of 3D-model

After photographing the source images in the field, the team produced a high-resolution model as well as a much smaller variant that could be used in smartphone applications. The 3D-models were later crafted into a full AR-experience that published on the National Geographic instagram account.

A preview of Stonehenge in 3D-software

IVAR Studios handled the full photogrammetry and reality capture post-production process for Stonehenge 3D. This entailed everything from data asset management, source image curation and dataset preparation to the actual 3D conversion process.

After building a large-resolution model in 3D, resulting in hundreds of millions of polygons, we also worked with retopology to simplify and minimize the model to a more manageable size. 

The same image as above, but now rendered with simulated lighting in a 3D-software

The end result was a full archive-size 3D model as well as a minimalistic and web-optimized version for use in a smartphone AR filter for social media (link opens to instagram).

The Stonehenge 3D team

Field team

Martin Edström, Director
Oliver Akermo, Photographer
Paul Joy, Drone pilot

Post-production team

Martin Edström, Director
Carl-Fredrik Zell, 3D Artist

For National Geographic Magazine

Kaitlyn Mullin, Director
Veda Shastri, Producer

Special thanks

English Heritage
The Stonehenge management team

More 3D and immersive projects

Also take a look at Martin’s other Immersive projects, using 360-video, VR and AR to tell important stories.