A high-resolution 3-D model of the Alma Mater sculpture, unveiling its new bronze finish, was projected by an iOS app at University of Illinois last week.Courtesy TRAVIS ROSS

Lorado Taft’s 13-foot bronze sculpture, Alma Mater, is in Forest Park receiving a major makeover at Conservation of Sculpture studio. But computer animation scientists at the University of Illinois are made a virtual image of the beloved campus icon available for graduation photos.

“The sculpture is so important to us because Alma represents the mother of our Illinois family,” said Joel Steinfeldt, spokesperson for the Urbana-Champaign campus. “This project allows students to still have the traditional experience, but with a technological twist that will forever be unique to the Class of 2013.”

The 10,000-pound sculpture arrived in Forest Park last August. At the time, conservationist Andrzej Dajnowski predicted the work would be finished in time for May’s graduation. But X-rays determined the sculpture had serious structural problems.

“This is an incredibly big project; huge, actually,” said Dajnowski last year. “And it presents some unusual problems.” Including pigeon droppings. Dajnowski said corrosion, soot and previous restoration patches would also have to be dealt with.

Since it was installed in 1929, Alma Mater has been one of the most recognizable symbols on campus. Alma stands with arms outstretched as the figures of Learning and Labor clasp hands behind her. Students have lined up to take a picture with the sculpture in their caps and gowns for decades on graduation day.

Graduates — and even non-graduates — were able to have a photo taken with a photo-realistic, high-resolution digital Alma Mater, thanks to a free “augmented reality application for iOS devices that displays the sculpture on its pedestal, life-sized and in real time,” according to a press release from the University of Illinois.

The university made the Alma Mater AR app freely downloadable from the Apple Store. The app required the on-site target to function, so photographers could shoot their loved ones in front of the empty pedestal at the corner of Green and Wright streets in Urbana and the app would place Alma in the photo behind them. The app was available only May 9 -11.

“I think people will be surprised not only to see Alma Mater in augmented reality but also to see Alma Mater looking different than they’re used to seeing her,” said Alan B. Craig, lead computer scientist working on the app.

“Instead of the blue-green that we’re all accustomed to, it’s the bronze color that Alma Mater will look like when it comes back.”

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Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...