This Winter marked the third year Stephanie O’Malley has taught ArtDes240: A course offered by the Stamps School of Art & Design that teaches students 3D modeling & animation. As one of the only 3D digital classes offered at the University of Michigan, AD240 sees student interest from several schools across campus. This year, several Computer Science students joined the class, looking to gain a better understanding of 3D art as it pertains to the video game industry. As a result, this marks the first time the class made use of the virtual reality MIDEN and Oculus Rift, with students creating immersive virtual reality environments as their final project for the class.
With the addition of the Unreal game engine being supported in the MIDEN, which affords students more complex materials (realistic looking glass, water, fire, etc) students now had the opportunity to design very lifelike environments. The students in AD240 were given a crash-course in level creation within the Unreal Editor. They were shown how to create game assets in 3D Studio Max that could then be imported into Unreal. It is then within Unreal that all of their objects were positioned, terrain was sculpted, and atmospheric effects such as time of day, weather, or fog could be added.
With just 5 weeks to model their entire environment, bring it into Unreal, package it as an executable, and test it in the MIDEN or on the Oculus Rift, the resulting student projects were truly impressive. Art & Design Students Elise Haadsma & Heidi Liu took inspiration from the classic board game, “Candyland” to create a life-size environment in Unreal consisting of a lollipop forest, mountains of Hershey’s kisses, even a gingerbread house and chocolate river.
Another student, Lindsay Balaka from the School of Music, Theater & Dance, chose to create her scene using the 3D Lab’s in-house rendering software “Jugular”-Her creation, “Galaxy Cakes”, is highly stylized (reminiscent of an episode of the 1960’s cartoon, The Jetson’s) cupcake shop, complete with musical soundtrack emanating from the corner Jukebox.
Vicki Liu, also of Art & Design, created a very realistic horror scene using Unreal. After navigating down a poorly lit, dilapidated hallway of an abandoned nursery school, viewers find themselves in a run down classroom that was probably inhabited by some kind of mad man. A tally of days passed has been scratched into the walls, an eerie message scrawled onto the lonely chalkboard, and thrown about furniture haphazardly barricades the windows.
While the goal of the final project was to create an environment for virtual reality, some students took it a step further.
Art & Design student Gus Schissler created an environment composed of neurons in Unreal intended for viewing within the Oculus Rift. He then integrated data from an Epoch neurotransmitter (which reads brain waves) to allow the viewer to telepathically interact with the environment. The viewers mood when picked up by the Epoch not only changed the way the environment looked by adjusting the intensities of the light being emitted by the neurons, but also allowed the viewer to think specific commands (push, pull, etc) in order to navigate their way past various obstacles in the environment.
With 19 projects in total, students spent the last two weeks of the semester scheduling time with Ted Hall and Sean Petty to test their scenes and ensure everything ran and looked correctly on the day of their presentations. This was a class that not just introduced students to the design process, but to also allowed them to get hands on experience with upcoming technologies as virtual reality continues to expand in the game and film industries.