‘The Vatican Museums 3D’ Takes Technology-Enabled Tour to Rome

Documentary Shows Moviegoers Sacred Art Like It Has Never Been Seen Before

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael in the Vatican
Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael in the Vatican (photo: <i>The Vatican Museums 3D</i> via Carmel Communications)

The Vatican Museums 3D, which is a 3-D “trip” inside the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, will be in theaters around the country on Dec. 10 in partnership with Fathom Events; it will be shown in 2-D and RealD 3-D. Additional shows will be in select theaters Dec. 11 and 14.

The same cutting-edge 3-D cinematic techniques used by filmmakers in many of Hollywood’s most technologically advanced movies were employed by a team of 40 professionals to capture art treasures.

Producer and director Cosetta Lagani took time from her busy schedule as the head of Sky 3D for the digital satellite TV network Sky Italia to speak with the Register about the making of the film.


The Vatican Museums contain more than 500 years of history and are said to be one of the greatest treasures of humanity. How long have you been involved in The Vatican Museums 3D project? Did your involvement require study and research?

Study for The Vatican Museums 3D project began in November 2012 and continued until June 2013, when we filmed inside the museums.

The idea for the project arose from the fact that we had developed a very clear opinion that the application of 3-D to the documentary represented an enormous step forward and could really push the entire genre to a whole new level. 3-D really adds another layer to the viewing experience. We decided to apply this ultimate technology to a kind of documentary to which it had never been applied before, an all-time first by Sky Italia: the artworks (statues, frescoes, paintings and so on) contained in one of the most-visited museums in the world.

We wanted to make sure that the documentary was realized with the best technologies available on the international market. We interfaced with our international network of 3-D producers, suppliers and broadcasters; we studied the available technologies in depth through a series of meetings and seminars, mainly in London. We then proceeded to lease much of the machinery and equipment utilized for production from abroad. And so, we also used the time available to mold the team selected in the use of the latest-generation 4K/3-D technologies.

In parallel, all the research and in-depth studies for the development of the script were carried out with constant alignment with the Vatican Museums directorate. In this sense, the documentary has an original narration with a filmic flavor. As you will see, the narration centers around evocatively creating emotions and at arousing curiosity without ever being didactic, because we wanted the power of the pictures shot with these technologies to “do the talking.”


This movie contains art inspired by a variety of faiths, from Christianity to Judaism. Who will be interested in viewing this film?

Certainly, art lovers and religious people, but our film has the objective of addressing a wider audience, thanks to the emotional filmic narration made even more possible by the 3-D technology that brings the documentary close to an audience that is not necessarily art-addicted, but, instead, addressed in general to a vaster audience, including many young people made curious and captivated by the technological project and original narration.


Had the types of sophisticated cameras used to make this film been allowed in the Vatican Museums prior to the making of this film?

Despite the fact that previous requests had been made to the Vatican Museums by international producers and broadcasters for permission to film inside the museums and the Sistine Chapel in 4K/3-D, we were the first to be granted permission to do so; and, therefore, to be able to spread this documentary throughout the world in collaboration with the management of the museums, making it possible to “live” the virtually realistic experience of a tour, including some of the most beautiful works housed there.


This film contains ancient artworks restored and protected by papal conservators and others commissioned by popes, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. How are these artworks brought to life in this film?

The statues, such as the Laocoön or the Belvedere Torso, are revealed from all angles with the realism of 3-D, making it possible to discover and to observe them in a totally unprecedented way. Anyone who sees them in our documentary will never forget them.

We have applied advanced dimensionalization techniques to the frescoes by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in particular (but also to those by Giotto, Raphael and Caravaggio), which is to say, frame-by-frame image scanning of the planes to create a three-dimensional perspective that the artist represented on a flat surface. What is involved is a technique applied up to now by the great cineastes of Hollywood to turn a 2-D film into a 3-D film. We in Italy have applied it for the first time to paintings and frescoes, naturally without in any way altering them, but only adding this sensation of immersion that enables one to experience them in an unprecedented way, making it possible almost to “float” together with the figures of [Michelangelo’s] The Last Judgment.


Is there anything in particular that stands out to you as special or poignant in the making of the film? What do you hope the viewer will gain from watching The Vatican Museums 3D?

This production puts 3-D technology at the service of art and celebrates the museums, offering the audience the true essence of the Vatican Museums in the form of an emotional visionary journey far from the ordinary guided tour, being supported by a modern approach with a filmic flavor and high audio-visual quality. You will never forget the artworks shown in our documentary after having seen them. And you will desire, as never before, to visit the Vatican Museums in person to complete the tour offered by the documentary, which, being a one-hour documentary, naturally does not have the pretension of being able to narrate all the artworks and treasures contained in the museums.


Is there anything you’d like to add?

I am so pleased with this Sky Italia production first, in collaboration with the Vatican Museums, realized in a place that is a symbol of Christianity in Italy and in the world: the “Popes’ Museums.” And I’m proud that this Italian production is now distributed in 2,000 cinemas in over 55 countries in the world, with excellent results at the box office in Italy, the U.K. and Australia, where it premiered in recent weeks. I think that 3-D can really elevate the documentary genre in general and, specifically, that it’s tied to the Italian artistic heritage and in the world and greatly contribute to its diffusion. We are already working on an analogous project on Florence and the Uffizi Gallery in 3-D; and in the future, we also hope to be able to extend this unique experience to more of the world’s major museums.

Watch the trailer here.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an EWTN TV host and author.