BSU's Entry into Second Life is Grounded in Emerging Media Expertise

An interview with John Fillwalk

Ball State University's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation is leveraging years of innovation in 3D animation and virtual applications to support the university's entry into Second Life. One of IDIAA's first academic projects in SL, The Aesthetic Camera, will draw on experts from art and technology to build a course in cinematography. CT interviewed IDIAA director John Fillwalk.

Ball State University has a track record of work in 3D animation and virtual applications. Could you describe a little about that history and IDIAA's role?

The Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation at Ball State has generous support and funding through the Lilly Endowment Inc., and for the past several years we've been working with a blend of faculty, experts both internal and external to campus, students of course -- both undergraduate and graduate, and staff in a variety of different projects. Our mission is hands-on, experiential, project-based learning environments for the students, so IDIAA is really a research and design lab that's exploring the intersections of art and technology.

Who is involved in your projects -- what types of expertise do they offer IDIAA and its projects?

Everything we do has an interdisciplinary approach, so we have artists including composers, animators, video artists, modelers, and graphic designers from our College of Fine Arts, as well as architects, telecommunication folks, and computer scientists from our six other colleges and outside partnerships, all working together. So our expertise at IDIAA to a large extent is about identifying the skills that we need to get certain things done.

How have you leveraged that expertise for Ball State's entry into Second Life?

A lot of what we are doing is looking at technology -- very disparate, separate technologies -- but looking toward the center space, where we can get them to communicate with each other and integrate. The thought -- as we’re trying to push emerging media around quite a bit -- is how can we get new technologies to work well with each other, to play well.

It takes a deep understanding of specific technologies, and a commitment to explore and test how they communicate -- in terms of the tech side.

On the art side, of course, the activity is exciting for us, because we help shape the conversation about how technology is integrated into the society, and how it can enhance what we do.

And one of your projects is a learning module in Second Life, called The Aesthetic Camera. Is that your initial academic offering in SL and a starting point for more to come?

Yes. There, we're dealing with distance ed concepts. In this case, it's teaching cinematography. All of the equipment has been virtualized and scripted. This means that the equipment has similar features of its real-world counterparts; all of the virtual equipment is controlled by a single HUD (heads-up-display) for consistency and ease of use.

 
 

Students will be able to learn concepts such as three-point lighting and then immediately apply the concept in a virtual hands-on mode to what they've learned on their sets. (Photo: Fillwalk's SL avatar, Mencius Aeghin, operates the camera. Courtesy Ball State University and John Fillwalk.)

But our hope is that through all of the models that we're building -- in terms of how one constructs a virtualized studio and laboratory experiences in an online multiuser universe -- through the instructional design aspect of it, we're hoping that [knowledge and expertise] can be applied to a host of other educational experiences, cross-discipline.

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