For Dane Webster, associate professor of animation and 3-D modeling and area coordinator of creative technologies in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Visual Arts, one of the most important parts of his job is cultivating students’ passion for art and technology and providing them with the opportunities to explore their creative ideas. Webster encourages students to pursue their interests by working on large, collaborative, often multidisciplinary projects with real-world applications, including the creation of a 3-D visualization for the new Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.
With a completion date scheduled for 2013, the Center for the Arts is being built on campus at the corner of Main Street and Alumni Mall and is sparking the imagination of many who are curious about what it will look like when it is complete. Renderings of the building’s interior and exterior provide a glimpse of the plan, but Webster wanted to craft a richer experience with a virtual visit to the center.
With help from two of his students — Chris Russell of Atlanta, Ga., a senior majoring in studio art, and Mallory Brangan of Norfolk, Va., a senior majoring in biochemistry and studio art — Webster used models and single-frame renderings from architecture firms Snohetta and STV to create a virtual fly through of the center. Fly throughs are animated videos that allow users to virtually move through a structure, getting a close-up view of a building.
“People want to start envisioning the Center for the Arts,” Webster said. “By showing a cinematic tour of the center, both the exterior and interior, people get excited and ultimately want to be in that structure. My goal was to create a narrative that unfolds during the video clip of individuals discovering various spaces in the center during a day-long tour.”
Russell is one of several students concentrating on creative technologies within the Studio Art Program and has worked on several projects with Webster. Russell said his work on collaborative projects has helped him prepare for his future, beginning with offers from several graduate schools.
“I’ve been given a significant advantage by working on these projects, especially the Center for the Arts visualization,” he said. “The process of actual application has helped familiarize me with the programs and tools needed to create compelling and informative visualizations and develop important skills needed for the completion of my senior studio project, which focused on lighting and rendering.”
Webster routinely enhances user experience by using visualizations in projects, such as his Paspahegh project, a 3-D virtual recreation of a American Indian village near Jamestown. The layout and artifacts of the village are based on archaeological data, illustrations, and journals from the period. The Paspahegh project is part of Virtual Jamestown, a collaborative teaching-learning-research project created by Crandall Shifflett, history professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
“Using texts and images from archaeological digs, we were able to create a model of the village that people can actually move through,” Webster said. “Of course, the best option is to actually visit Jamestown, but for those who can’t, this is the next best thing.”
Creating a fly through visualization is no easy task. See an image gallery that explains how Dane Webster and his students transformed architectural renderings into a moving narrative that explores light and space.
The Center for the Arts fly through and Virtual Jamestown are just two examples of the kinds of projects that will be created through the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, a major component of the Center for the Arts. The institute will reach beyond current models, fusing art and technology to generate research and produce learning modules and environments that address real needs identified by educators. In lab and studio settings, Virginia Tech faculty from across disciplines will collaborate on applied research that examines technology-enhanced learning through the arts.
Dane Webster and his students are also creating Drummer Game, a real-time strategy game in which players control an army of terra cotta warriors by using Chinese drums as controllers.
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