Digital museum brings historic Saudi images back to life

The museum aims to be a platform documenting royal occasions and major events in the Kingdom

  
A portrait of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hangs on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. Image used for illustrative purpose.

A portrait of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hangs on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Brandon Wade
 
RIYADH: A digital museum curator has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help bring the history of Saudi Arabia back to the future.

Omar Murshid, who set up Al-Masmak Digital Museum a decade ago, has been painstakingly transforming old black-and-white photographs and rare film footage into color images.

And his preservation project has seen faded images of historic events and landmarks brought back to life.

Murshid established his digital museum in 2011 to be a cultural and recreational platform documenting royal occasions and major events in the Kingdom and has worked on a number of initiatives to revive Saudi heritage with the use of the latest technology.

“I chose a pocket watch that was made in the 1940s, one of the gifts of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the Saudi foreign minister back then, and used a 3-D scanner to scan it,” he told Arab News.

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It aims to be a platform documenting royal occasions and major events in the Kingdom.

“Given that this technology is new and still being developed, the results were not perfect, and some gaps appeared on the watch’s structure. Therefore, I had to adjust it manually, which required a lot of time and effort.”

And his latest initiative has involved restoring and enhancing black-and-white pictures and videos.

“I used Adobe Photoshop to colorize the photographs and had to add the colors and adjust the layers manually. It is a long process that requires hours of work.”

Special apps can also automatically identify the color shades seen on black-and-white or sepia photos. But coloring old film footage is a far more complicated process.

“That is why I had to use the latest AI software. This technology conducts several experiences before showing the result. The software works on decompressing the video into images and frames and coloring each one separately,” he said.

Film featuring the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah during the Hajj season in 1954, and King Abdul Aziz’s historic visit to Egypt in 1946 have been among the images picked for color restoration.

Murshid’s work can be viewed on Al-Masmak account on Instagram.

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