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Department ofArt and Art History


New Year Brings VR Sustainability, Faculty Collaboration to Imaginarium

New upper division course allows deeper dive into VR tools

New upper division course allows deeper dive into VR tools

By Jenny Walsh '19

The 2018-19 school year has been an exciting time in the Imaginarium. After a busy summer that involved faculty and students collaborating on several projects, the virtual reality lab continues to explore the intersection of art, technology, and now sustainability.

In the fall, Brian Smith, the Imaginarium’s new director, taught the introductory VR “boot camp” class (ARTS 197A). The course helped prepare students to conceptualize and tackle bigger VR projects.

Some of those projects have moved into production this winter quarter in his new advanced VR course (ARTS 185). The new course is focusing on issues of sustainability in their VR projects. “I want [the students’ projects] to be something that can hit home for them, because the passion should be in the project.” His goal, Smith notes, is to pursue a more “holistic” approach to VR.

Smith’s students are crafting their VR experiences as games. This allows the students to design a project in a medium with which they are quite familiar, but also challenges them to keep their sustainability message at the center of the experience.

Ryan Andersen (Anthropology) reinforced this issue when he spoke with the class during its early project development phase. Anderson ‘s approach to the projects was pragmatic: He noted that the students must understand sustainability issues if they are going to address them effectively in VR or other media.

“The class feels like a family working together on a goal,” commented Maggie Schulte ‘21 (Computer Science). “We all are working to help each other and to make our projects better.” Schulte and teammates Emily Dang ‘20 (Computer Engineering), Vicki Lim ‘20 (Computer Science), and Isabel Wu ‘21 (Marketing and Studio Art) are working on an ocean pollution VR experience they call AdvocaSea.

Smith hopes that exploring sustainability in the context of a VR game will give students real-world experience that will help them after they graduate.  The goal is not just to learn about VR, noted Smith. “I want them to utilize their unique VR skill sets in meaningful ways.”

Bill Delucchi, the owner of a local electrical prefabrication firm, echoed this innovation message when he spoke to the VR courses about incorporating VR into business. Delucchi asserted that VR is an “entrepreneurial opportunity” to think outside the box.

In addition to the VR courses, Smith and some of the Imaginarium student lab technicians are working with faculty in Classics, Child Studies and other programs to incorporate VR elements into courses. The goal in these collaborations is to allow the faculty to bring another tool to their pedagogies.

When asked about his vision for where work in the Imaginarium might go in the future, Smith commented, “I see it  going beyond just VR.” He noted that the opportunities to blend fields of study are becoming more apparent and more desirable. “In the future, I see more classes on applied interactive technology [such as] augmented reality, physical projection mapping, computing, and design for other applications. VR is, of course, an important component of it, but I think in the future we’ll take on a much more holistic approach and see how students can actually utilize new technologies in creative ways.”


About the Imaginarium

The Imaginarium is the virtual reality laboratory located in the Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building. The lab was developed in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences, private donors, Silicon Valley partners, and the Department of Art and Art History.  The Imaginarium allows faculty, staff, and students to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects. For more information about the Imaginarium, contact Brian Smith.