UNC students use Social Computing Room for ‘illuminating’ experience

CHAPEL HILL, NC, May 19, 2008 – The Social Computing Room at RENCI’s UNC Chapel Hill engagement center isn’t your typical classroom, but it was the perfect environment for final exams for a class in the UNC Chapel Hill art department.

On May 6, the room, which uses 12 projectors to create a 360-degree display for virtual, immersive and interactive experiences, hosted the student exhibit “Luminescence ,” a conglomeration of digital media art projects created by 11 students in David Tinapple’s Advanced Digital Media Studio. Luminescence was both an art exhibit and a final project for these students, and the Social Computing Room, which accommodates directed audio and high definition video on all four walls, was the perfect setting to experience their work.

“As a teaching environment, RENCI’s Social Computing Room was a powerful motivator and helped the students to see the concept of video and interaction in a new light,” said Tinapple, an art department instructor. “The collaboration across disciplines, artists working with visualization specialists, was a pleasure and rewarding. Together we pulled it off technically and the work looked great. The art exhibit was a success.”

Luminescence was the culmination of a semester’s worth of coursework in digital media production. The class was a hands-on lab, in which students learned how to work with the latest tools of interactive multimedia in the context of contemporary digital media art, such as interactive video installations, multimedia authoring, interactive media programming, and robotic camera platforms. Their multimedia projects were created with Max/MSP/Jitter, graphical programming software used in installation and performance art, computer music, theater, video DJ performance, data visualization, robotics, and more. The software’s visual programming approach is well suited for artists and musicians, fostering experimentation and the rapid construction of complex and rich interactive audiovisual systems.

Under the direction of Tinapple, the students developed their work and then collaborated with RENCI visualization experts. “We wrote our software taking into account the dimensions of the Social Computing Room and resolutions of this wrap-around display, said Tinapple.  “We also utilized the sound system and camera network. Our software could call up any of the four video cameras mounted in the room and use the video feed to track the movement of viewers, thus making it clear to the viewer that there is a relationship between the body movement and the image on screen. We also as a class built a system for simply playing back video on all four walls of the room. This involved some trial and error to find the highest resolution we could use and still maintain high frame rates, but in the end it worked very well.”

RENCI at UNC Chapel Hill opened in late 2007 in the ITS Manning Building. The state-of-the-art facility gives RENCI the chance to collaborate with UNC faculty, staff and students and to leverage their expertise for existing and new RENCI projects. For UNC faculty, this means the chance to partner with RENCI and utilize its advanced technologies, computing resources and expertise.

“Collaborating with David Tinapple and the art students was a valuable experience for both parties. The students understood quickly the technical issues of their project and saw the benefit of using our systems, which will prepare them for the immersive and large-scale projection systems that they may encounter in the future,” said Eric Knisley, a researcher in 3D visualization at RENCI. “We hope to build more partnerships between RENCI and the UNC community.”

RENCI…Catalyst for Innovation
The Renaissance Computing Institute brings together teams of talented researchers, engineers, technologists and leaders in government, business, the arts and humanities to attack major research questions and community issues in ways that accelerate discovery and drive innovation. RENCI has nationally significant expertise and capabilities in high performance computing, visualization, collaborative tools, networking, device prototyping, and data systems as well as engagement sites across the state. Founded in 2004 as a major collaborative venture of Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state of North Carolina, RENCI is a statewide virtual organization.  For more, see www.renci.org.