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around town

MAKING SPACE DISCOVERING IMMERSIVE ART LIANNE ZHANG • AROUND TOWN EDITOR

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ou are immersed in a thick, green pasture filled with Institute. The exhibition, serves as the genesis of what is expected vibrant flowers, abundant trees, and bumblebees. to be a series of curated exhibitions at KAM. Hank Kaczmarski, In the distance, bundles of black and gray triangular the director of the Integrated System Labs; Rose Marshack, visshapes give the illusion of mountains. To your iting art and technical integration specialist; and George right is a brick house with windows drawn on Francis, an Illinois professor of mathematics, crookedly. The bold child-like crayon strokes look freshly made are the co-curators of the exhibit. and although the space is 3-D, the artwork is 2-D and resembles paper cut-outs of child-like drawings. You begin to wonder if you are dreaming, but this is virtual reality that you have never experienced before. You have literally stepped into someone else’s artwork. Get ready for the seemingly impossible. Get ready for immersive art. Mathematics and art have come together at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE), was pioneered at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1992 by several virtual reality experimenters, Carolina Cruz-Neira, Tom DeFanti, and Dan Sandin. Fourteen years later, it has spawned a new generation of what is known as “virtual reality art” or “immersive art.” The CAV E is located in Beck man Institute, 405 North Mathews Ave. in Urbana. The CAVE is a room-sized virtual reality space and is meant to immerse the audience physically, as well as optically. There are three walls made of a f lexible screen with plywood, arranged in an upside down U-shape around the viewer — engulfing them from the front, left and right sides. On the ceiling is a mirror that ref lects images caught by the projector onto the ground. There are four projectors in all, one to reflect and transmit images onto each surface within the CAVE. The UI is currently home to the world’s largest collection of immersive art. The UI IM AG ES boasts one CUBE , three CAVES , and six CO UR Immersedesks (portable, one-walled versions TE SY OF of the CAVE). TH EB The CUBE , located inside Beckman Institute, is the EC KM AN “granddaddy” of the virtual art realm, serving as the next INS TIT generation of the CAVE. The CUBE is what is known as a fully UT E. immersive space — swallowing the viewer inside a literal cube of virtual reality. There are four walls, a ceiling and a floor, all made of optical-grade acrylic. It takes six projectors, one directed Out of the various immersive spaces at each surface, for the CUBE to work successfully. the most advanced Buried in the basement of the University Krannert Art Museum, available, the CUBE is Viewers remove their 500 E. Peabody Drive in Champaign, is the Collaborative Advanced immersive space in the world. Navigation Virtual Art Studio (CANVAS). CANVAS is smaller than shoes, step inside the CUBE , and close the door behind them. the CUBE or the CAVE, and is an open-to-the public showcase of They are then completely engulfed in the world of virtual reality. immersive art. CANVAS provides space for a new 3-D exhibition The CUBE is controlled by 25 computers. A single CUBE requires called “Calcuart.” Calcuart opened on March 9, as a collaboration millions of dollars in equipment to operate. Viewers strap on what between KAM and the Integrated System Laboratory at Beckman is called a “backpack” — a small, square-shaped motion sensor, INTRO | A ROUND TOWN | L ISTEN, HEAR | CU CALENDAR | STAGE, S CREEN &

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pop on some 3-D enhancing electronic shutter glasses (which are attached to a wire that hooks to the backpack and is able to track the movement of each eye). A mini Palm Pilot look-alike serves as a hand-held computer, and allows the viewer to control the various programs without having to run in and out of the CUBE. Equipped with these three essentials, the viewer is able to begin experiencing immersive art to its fullest capacity. Marshack said that with Calcuart, the curators hoped to prove to the public that almost anything can be construed as art. “Heck, you can even make walking into a form of art,” she said. “I took an art class as an elective and accidently stumbled upon the Calcuart exhibit,” senior Bill El-Hinnaway said. “I thought it was a video game, with the 3-D glasses and the PS2 joystick, but it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.” According to a recent article in the News-Gazette, the CANVAS system is meant to integrate various mathematical and art designs, in hopes that systems like CANVAS “could be as revolutionary as portable video cameras were to the development of video art.” It was ex-Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s vision to merge science and art at the University. According to Kaczmarski, Cantor’s goal was to create an arts and technology intensive world at the university. Much of the initial funding for these immersive art spaces came from the generous donations of two alumni. Dean E. Madden (class of 1943) and Marilynn A. Madden (class of 1944) formed the Madden Initiative in Technology, Arts, and Culture. According to the Final Report of the Silicon, Carbon, Culture Initiative, an experiment conducted from fall 2002-2003, the Madden Initiative’s ultimate goal was to “create a meeting point for interdisciplinary engagement between the sciences, technology disciplines, humanities, social sciences, and arts to explore the importance of technology to culture and society and the University as an institution of learning.” These immersive art spaces are operated by a free downloadable program called Syzygy (www.isl.uiuc.edu.) Syzygy was developed by a previous University Beckman research programmer, Ben Schaeffer. Syzygy has enabled the creation of virtual art to be less expensive and more accessible to the general public. Now, virtual art spaces can be created by a mere six or seven inexpensive computers (as opposed to numerous old-fashioned multi-million dollar Onyx 2 computers), working simultaneously with each other. A few seconds into one of these virtual immersive spaces, and one will understand the powerful way this new space has and will revolutionize the future. sounds from the scene

Buzz Magazine: May 4, 2006  

May 4, 2006

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