Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Visualization - ARSC

“Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.” - Cicero

We were initially going to be on one last outing to both the Department of Fish & Game and the Creamer's Field Visitor Center for more dead hairy animals to draw, but the majority of the class opted to have an in-class work-in-progress day to catch up.
So much for that ... didn't happen!

Just a quick recap for the first hour of what's due and when, and how the last four weeks/eight classes will play out; basically it's figure drawing from here on out + the student art show + the final/last critique and portfolio turn-in. Time is accelerating around these parts about as fast as the daylight returns and the snow finally starts to melt, can't believe it's already been just about a whole semester gone by. Also I made some quick xerox reductions from a handful of critter spots to demo how just another half-hour or so of additional time invested in their pieces can easily result in a vastly improved illustration, and how using these "practice" copies can ease the worries about botching anything up.

Throwing my students a couple curve-balls and blowing their minds is a necessary ingredient to every successful semester, and we happen to have one of the coolest opportunities to take advantage of right here on campus. So as an added bonus feature to today’s class, I ran everybody over to the Rasmusen library and down a couple floors to the “Discovery Lab” of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center. Here we got to play with some hard-core technology called BLUIsculpt (“Body Language User Interface”) and another application developed in conjunction with one of my former instructors and Alaskan Master Artist Bill Brody.

Our guide was Visualization Systems Analyst Bob Huebert, backed up by Patrick Webb (driving the console), who lined out the field-trip for us and is always psyched to share the magic with inquiring minds. Piped in from Cray supercomputers (physically housed up on West Ridge of campus) this little room secreted away in the bowels of the library is a virtual portal into the mind-bending possibilities born from integrating art and science.

First was a virtual tour of the Butrovich faculties housing the Crays (the newest one is an XT5 complex - running 3,456 CPU's) - an outstanding demonstration of applying linear perspective incidentally - along with a student project that recreated from historical photographs what downtown Fairbanks looked like. In order to fully appreciate the experience all of us wore spiffy $800 glasses, just like in the movies.

Then we took a look at Brody's 360˚ panoramas of the Brooks Range and a few other remote wilderness locations that served as bases from which he does on-site paintings. Using the Maya modeling software application and a ginormous wrap-around 3840x1024 pixel display (+ another 1280x1024 on the floor screen), the stitched-together digital photographs gave us an eye-popping portrayal of the unique geophysical environment of this landscape. Total immersion, and as Huebert mentioned, no bugs!

Then on to the interactive element; this is where the students donned an $8,000 pair of glasses (with microphones tracking head movement through monitoring ultrasonic chirps from 54 speakers at 100x's per second) and picked up an $8,000 remote control with which to draw, erase, and rotate, real-time in 3d space, fully rendered shapes. Yeah - technically it's drawing folks; one hell of an amazing, far-out way to do it, but it still all comes down to it - starts with a drawing. Personally I just dig the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution in action: to go from using burnt sticks on a cave wall (or, in our case, charcoal on newsprint) to creating these virtual drawings using a supercomputer - how freakin' cool is that? Everyone got about five minutes at bat, and usually at least a couple students have a sort of epiphany about the possibilities, and that their vision, their art, is only limited by their imagination.

"Soul-Patch Man" Khelsea Knorr

“Great art picks up where Nature ends.” - Marc Chagall

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