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Silver lining: Late art historian's work, 'Assassin's Creed' video game could help rebuild Notre Dame

SF Gate logo SF Gate 5 days ago Alix Martichoux, SFGATE

a close up of an old building: Flames and smoke billow around the gargoyles decorating the roof and sides of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON / AFP)THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

Flames and smoke billow around the gargoyles decorating the roof and sides of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON / AFP)THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
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French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was devastated by a massive fire Monday. Reconstructing the intricate French Gothic cathedral is bound to be no simple task, and will likely take years, if not decades.

But some on Twitter pointed out a sliver of hope amidst the ashes: detailed 3D maps of the landmark have been created in recent years.

Ph.D. student Hannah Groch-Begley shared the work of art historian Andrew Tallon, who used laser scanners to create an immaculately accurate model of the cathedral.

"Mounted on a tripod, the laser beam sweeps around the choir of a cathedral, for example, and measures the distance between the scanner and every point it hits. Each measurement is represented by a colored dot, which cumulatively create a three-dimensional image of the cathedral," explains a National Geographic profile of Tallon's work.

"If you've done your job properly," Tallon told the magazine, the scan is "accurate to within five millimeters."

DEVASTATING FIRE: Early before and after photos show damage to Notre Dame

Groch-Begley said Tallon passed away late last year.

Tallon's models aren't even the only immaculate models we have of Notre Dame. An even more unlikely hero has emerged: the video game "Assassin's Creed."

The video game series is known for its immaculate recreations of real-world places as its settings. "Assassin's Creed Unity" is set in Paris and an artist for the game, Caroline Miousse, told The Verge she spent two years finessing the appearance Notre Dame, down to each individual stone.

In other good news, it appears at least some of the priceless artifacts from inside the cathedral have also been spared. On Thursday, 16 religious statues had been removed from the peak for the first time in over a century to be taken for cleaning, and therefore escaped the blaze. The statues represented the 12 apostles and four evangelists.

It's not clear which other relics and artworks have been saved.

MORE: What's inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

The blaze collapsed the cathedral's spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers, but Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church's structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry.

The exact cause of the blaze was not known, but French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is "potentially linked" to a $6.8 million renovation project on the church's spire and its 250 tons of lead. The Paris prosecutors' office ruled out arson and possible terror-related motives, and said it was treating it as an accident.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read Alix Martichoux's latest stories and send her news tips at alix.martichoux@sfgate.com

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