VIS 143 Final Presentations: Virtual Environments

Conceptual intervention project by ICAM major Jacob Ulgade.


Date: 2017-12-11
Time: Noon - 3:00pm
Location: VR Lab, Room B210, CSE Building, UC San Diego
Host: Visual Arts lecturer Trish Stone


Students enrolled in Visual Arts 143 will kick off finals week with presentations that showcase their collaborative projects in a course on “Virtual Environments” taught by Qualcomm Institute staffer and Visual Arts lecturer Trish Stone.

Date: Monday, December 11, 2017
Time:  Noon – 3:00pm
Location:  VR Lab, Room B210, CSE Building

Twenty-two upper-division students (most of them seniors) are enrolled in VIS 143, and all are majoring in Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts (ICAM). On December 11, they will showcase their final collaborative projects for the fall 2017 course. The students were broken into four teams of 5-6 students each, and each team was tasked with developing a 3D virtual environment for viewing via virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs).  The students will present their projects for classmates and visitors, with the presentations open to the campus community.

Screenshot from ICAM major Erick Morales’s individual conceptual intervention project.

The virtual environments are designed for viewing on Oculus Rift headsets or via the higher-end HTC Vive VR systems. (The Vive allows room-scale virtual reality, permitting viewers to physically move around objects in the virtual space.)

Prior to the presentations, the four teams will have a final working session in partnership with the student-run Virtual Reality Club (VR Club). VR Club president Connor Smith and other VR Club members advised the teams on development of their HMD project.  “Connor Smith also advised the class on developing a workflow for developing VR head-mounted displays in Unity,” said lecturer Stone. “We are especially thankful to him and his fellow volunteers from the VR Club, as well as their faculty advisor Jurgen Schulze who was instrumental in creating the VR Lab in the CSE building.”

Stone also  thanked Visual Arts professor Ricardo Dominguez, who previously developed the course in its current experimental format, and guest lecturer Dan Sandin, a visiting fellow in the Qualcomm Institute and pioneer in the field of scientific visualization and virtual reality as the co-developer of the first CAVE  VR theatre system in the 1990s (with QI senior research scientist Tom DeFanti). In his lecture, Sandin explored the question, "What Is Virtual Reality?" and shared documentation from his Particle Dreams project. 

Several VR Club members (including Smith) previously took VIS 143, and they volunteered to ‘team teach’ students this quarter on how to build an HMD project using the Unity game engine. In addition to teaching Unity, VR Club members also participated in the class starting in week four, as students were familiarizing themselves with readings from Unity documentation.

Each team of students is asked to develop, program and produce an HMD ‘gesture’. Each HMD project is evaluated based on aesthetic risk, use of the platform’s qualities, and to what degree it reflects or speaks to the nature of the virtual/immersive sensibility of HMDs.  Some 20 percent of each team member’s grade will be based on how well each student collaborates with other team members to achieve an agreed-upon frame, style, process and overall content. Students are also asked to evaluate other members of their team.

In addition to the final team project, each student was responsible for developing an individual ‘conceptual intervention,’ submitted in week eight of the course. Also in week eight, students were required to read best practices regarding both the Oculus Rift and Google’s Cardboard viewer. Each student was also required to maintain a diary or blog to reflect on readings and conceptual development notes for class projects (due during midterms as well as finals week).

In weeks nine and ten of VIS 143, students were exposed to tutorials and manuals on how to build terrains in Unity, as well as how to deal with 3D physics, joints and springs in addition to shaders, particle systems and effects – and how to implement them in Unity.