04/07/19: Rebuilding for Phase 2

Over the last week, the majority of my focus has been on showing demos of our thesis project at the ACCAD Open House and the Student Art Collective. Quite some time has passed since Tori and I were able to show our progress to anyone outside of ACCAD, and as we didn’t have a working prototype from last semester… we needed to make one that was able to be shown and experienced by the public.

I took what was our Fall prototype and completely rebuilt it between Saturday and Tuesday evening. Part of this was to bring the project forward into a new version of Unity, but I also wanted to include the height adjustment from Phase 1 and a different mob configuration. This build would also require the user to begin the experience sitting on a bench before standing to progress, an interaction I have not tested before in this scene.

My Phase 2 project was temporarily put to the side in order to get this ready for public, so I was not able to test out of the gaze-based interaction. I decided instead to hit a middle-ground between Phase 1 and Phase 2- timed teleportations. Not in the control of the user at all, but a little less disturbing than the sliding motion we previously used. This included a fade in/fade out to signal the motion was about to occur - a fairly simple visual, but actually caused a ton of technical issues. The fade would show up on the screen and not in the headset. For future reference, there is a SteamVR_Fade script that you’re required to use in order to make that appear properly in the headset - normal UI settings do not seem to work in this scenario!

The new environment height scaling feature also changed how I put certain assets in the scene and parented things to each other, as offset pivot points and use of a Unity Terrain asset caused some weird placement issues when the scene was run. And through both demos this week we faced some Audio problems, with the volume being either too low or coming out of the wrong ear. Two solutions to this: better headphones, and making sure the VR camera has an audio listener attached. The SteamVR Camera prefab does not have one attached automatically! And yes, it took me way too long to figure that out.

I rebuilt the Prologue sequence based on some feedback from earlier on in the semester, including more images of Ruby and taking into account the order in which the images appear to create better flow in the scene. For demo purposes, I also included a “start menu” triggered by the operators (Tori and I - spacebar to start the prologue), and an “End of Phase 1” scene that loops back to the start menu.

The Student Art Collective on Tuesday went well - we were set up at a space in Knowlton with the Vive Pro and Wireless Adapter. Actually, that was my first time using the Wireless for anything, and it was perfect for this project. Most of the attendees were students, though we did have a few parents/professors show up and try out the scene. It was a 3 hour exhibition, which gave Tori and I a good measure of how long mobile setup would take and get back in the groove of giving a 30 second explanation/VR prep to new users. There was a short calibration process during setup with the bench to make sure users were facing the right way and the bench was in the center of the play space, but it everything ran smoothly after that.

Friday afternoon was the ACCAD Open House. Tori and I showed our Six-Week prototype at last year’s event, and played that video on a screen this time around to show our progress in the year since. We didn’t have the Wireless for this event, but the scene worked just as well with a tether. We had some wonderful conversations with guests about our work and where it’s going. It was easier for me this time around to speak about our project - I felt much more informed and confident now that we’ve grown from the “exploring technology” phase to the “conceptual development” phase.

FEEDBACK and CRITIQUE

Both of the demos provided valuable information. The most common reaction and comment we received after users exited the experience was about the height change in the scene. Having the mob members towering over and changing at users, some of whom are used to towering over others, was intimidating and placed them in the correct mindset for this experience. We also heard that they appreciated the prologue in the beginning as framing for the experience. It seemed that more of the guests this year had heard of Ruby Bridges before, and once teacher even told us she had a classroom of middle school kids who love Ruby’s story.

The main issues we experienced were technical or had to do with user flow in the experience. Audio was a real issue in the beginning - fixed by cranking the volume to accommodate the noise of the space and using better headphones (thanks, Tori!). The fade in/fade out of the scene seemed to be fixed by having both the SteamVR_Fade script active and the original Fade image active, though sometimes it would flicker between teleports. In the Prologue sequence, images appear around the user in a circle - which would be no problem if the user was in a spinning chair, but on a bench it tends to break flow when they have to turn their head all the way back around to continue looking. Some users who stand to get out of the car will continue to walk around, while others stand in place- not really an issue, but it poses a risk of tripping over the bench unless Tori or I move it. This was especially dangerous with the Wireless demo - users without a tether are more likely to forget and take off. The Student Art Collective demo required one of us to stand at the periphery of the lighthouses once a user was in to make sure they didn’t wander off into the crowd or walk into something.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall it was a great experience and I appreciated getting to see how far we came in the last year. And now we have this great demo that I can use to prototype for Phase 2! The upcoming week has calmed slightly in GRA and interview obligations, so I will be able to actually catch up on my production schedule and begin to implement it into this prototype. Along the way I’d also like to polish some of the issues that came up this week and smooth it out, such as the asset pivot problems I discovered and the weird fade flickering.

Phase 2: Continuing the Prototype

After completing our 4 week project, Tori and I had a talk about where we would go with the next 6 weeks to advance this project. We decided to continue in the direction outlined in my last post- creating the first steps of a vertical slice from the story of Ruby Bridges- Tori focusing on organizing the animations and drama, and myself focused on creating a full build in Unity. 

Our four week prototype had a loose menu structure that I created to make it easier for us to test out different functions and for myself to understand how they work. These were purely technical exercises. In this prototype, will be creating a prototype that contains a full narrative. The user will begin the experience as Ruby, with minimal control of their surroundings. From there, the scene will restart and the user will gain the ability to navigate the environment. There will be interactable objects to collect and examine, containing background information from the time period and location. While we want to avoid creating a full-fledged game with this experience, I will be using game design elements to encourage exploration of the environment so students will actually find this information. 

We took into consideration the critique that we received from our initial prototype. Our objectives were reframed to focus on the story and less on the technology, and we will continue to focus on function and interaction instead of aesthetic appearance. These are questions we can begin examining after this project. Our research has already begun expanding to include psychology, learning theory, and empathy. 

Proposed work schedule for 6 Week Prototype.

Above is the working schedule I've created for my part of the prototype. Tori's schedule lines up with mine so that we're both generally working at the same pace and form of development. 

I began working on some of the general layout for our project, considering the flow of the experience and what functions would be available in each. While this is still a broad layout, it's a sketch of the experience from the start screen all the way to the end of interaction. Tori and I will be meeting this week to finalize this plan and discuss details. I will also be starting the general layout of the experience, with a blocked in environment and basic navigation for the user. 

Image of notes on the layout of the experience.

I also continued reading some of the research gathered over the last four weeks: 

These readings covered a wide range of topics. Research on the effects of virtual immersion on younger children is nearly nonexistent, and that is mentioned several times throughout these papers. A few of them had to do with digital representations and how users behavior changes when their avatar reflects a different identity. Children develop self-recognition around the age of 3 or 4, and these connections grow with executive functions. It was also shown that children between the ages of 6-18 report higher levels of realness in virtual environments than adults. It's been shown that children have developed false memories from virtual reality experiences, thinking events in the virtual environment actually occurred.  I was also introduced to the Proteus effect, which suggests that changing self-representations in VR would have an impact on how that person behaves in a virtual environment. By placing a student in Ruby's avatar, we also would change their judgements of Ruby to one that is situational, and create an increased overlap between the student and the character. When we're thinking about placing a student in Ruby Bridges' shoes and considering aspects such as the aesthetic appearance of the environment and the interaction between Ruby and the other characters, we have to remember that this experience may be much more intense for younger students who experience a higher level of environmental immersion than adults.


Over Spring Break I spent my time at the Creating Reality Hackathon in Los Angeles, CA, where I got to collaborate with some great people in the AR industry and work with the Microsoft Hololens for two days. Our group was working on a social AR tabletop game platform called ARena using Chess as a sample project. While we were not successful, it was a great lesson in AR development and approach. I also gained exposure to other headsets and devices from the workshops and sponsors- the Mira headset runs from a phone placed inside the headset. And there are a variety of Mixed Reality headsets that use the same Microsoft toolkit for the Hololens. 

Workshop showing the Mixed Reality Toolkit with the Hololens.

While the Hackathon was a great technical and collaborative experience, it also opened up other possibilities for our current project in the long run. Part of our research is discovering what virtual reality itself brings to this learning experience beyond just being cool or fun to experience. We already know that this experience is not meant to replace the reading of the book or any in-class lecture- it provides another medium for students to experience and understand this story. After spending the week working and thinking with AR, I was thinking about how we can better bridge that gap between the physical experience in the classroom and the virtual experience. Using an AR to VR transition that interacts with the physical book would be an interesting concept to explore related to this.

The technology doesn't quite seem to be there yet- there's no headset out there that has the ability to switch from AR to full immersive VR. But Vuforia seems to have this function available and could possibly be accomplished on a mobile device. There's even a demonstration recorded from the Vision Summit in 2016 showing this ability (at time 22:00), documentation on Vuforia's website about AR to VR in-game transitions, and a quick search on Youtube shows other proof-of-concept projects with this ability. This isn't a function that will really be able to be explored until much further down the line and potentially will not be possible until the right technology exists, but raises questions about how we can create that transition between the physical and virtual. 

From some of the participants at this hackathon, I also learned about the Stanford Immersive Media Conference this May, which will feature talks by several of the authors of the papers we've been reading for research and others involved with the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab. This is potentially a great way to interact with others who are doing work in the same areas of VR and AR, and discuss their research. 

Reality Virtually Hackathon!

Earlier this month I was able to attend and compete in the Reality Virtually VR/AR Hackathon, hosted by MIT Media Lab. I registered, was accepted, and started connecting with other participants via a facebook page. Everybody was really friendly and excited about working with VR/AR technology! I saw people from all kinds of fields and backgrounds, from students to industry professionals. About two weeks before the Hackathon, everyone started posting their bios and work experience to see who was interested in working together or finding a team. I spoke to several participants, but one reached out and wanted me to join their team. All they knew was that they were interested in working with the recently released ARKit, and all of the team members were iOS developers. They needed someone from the 3D world. 

So I drove out to Boston for the Hackathon, and that first night we had a brainstorming session. Just throwing ideas around until it stuck. We decided to tackle the problem of Collaborative AR- something that had not been successful in ARKit before. But at the end of the two days, we had it! It was definitely more of a technical challenge than an artistic one, but I made the art assets we used to demonstrate its capabilities and tried to get the team to think on a design process as well as an engineering process. 

The video above was made during the competition to show our platform in action. I'll be creating a more comprehensive video in the next few weeks. 

"Team Two" ended up winning our category, Architecture, Engineering, and Construction, and Best Everyday AR Hack from Samsung! 

Team 2 after the Closing Ceremony

The overall experience was amazing. This group worked well together and was able to solve a problem that opens up a lot of opportunity for developers. I learned a lot from them- I had never worked with mobile development and had no idea what was involved with development for iOS. Or with AR for that matter. The workshops before the event was a great way to get into the headspace of VR/AR development and ask questions about various aspects of the industry. The Facebook group is still alive and I made a lot of connections from the event. I'm planning on attending again next year and maybe trying to go to the one at Penn State as well. 


While I was at the Hackathon, I was also working on a game level for my Computer Game 1 class. This was a team project centered around the theme of a broken bridge. Each of us had to create a level using different game mechanics to get around the bridge. Mine was to collect planks that had washed downriver and carry them back to the bridge in order to repair it. I found, especially during this project, that my scripting skills in C# are improving a lot and I'm starting to understand Unity a lot better. Of course, I still get a little overexcited when building scenes so... even though this was a prototyping assignment I got to play with all kinds of fun settings. 

The next couple of weeks are going to be intense. I have a VR prototype that I'm working on involving Hurricane Preparedness (more on that soon), and an AR MindMap project I'm working on to explore my own process a bit more. Next week I should have a computer game final project in the works as well- not too sure what that's going to look like just yet. There will be plenty of process work to post on here! 

Updates!

It's been about 9 months since I last posted on here, but now that life is settled a bit I can explain what I've been up to and what's happening next! 

I graduated from CCAD in December and immediately began the process of applying to the Design MFA program at The Ohio State University. Between work, moving apartments, and seeing family, I decided to take a step back from animation and assess what my next move was going to be. I found out in March that I got accepted to OSU as part of the Digital Animation and Interactive Media track, and spent the summer working as a Residential and Teaching Assistant at CCAD as part of their College Preview Program. At OSU I also work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate Design Foundations course- it's been fun working in a college classroom, and I've really enjoyed taking a step closer to education and the teaching process. 

I started the MFA program last month and hit the ground running. My current focus is in virtual and augmented reality research, and their potential applications to education and lifestyle. That's... quite a large topic, so I'm hoping to spend the next year experimenting and researching to narrow down my interests. I've already been able to experiment with some new processes in class- we used the motion capture lab here at OSU to capture data for an animated music video. Myself and another teammate used a combination of particles, fluids, and furs in Maya and applied them to the figures. I have not worked with dynamics in awhile and never with motion capture, so this was a fun learning process. I'm posting the full project on my home page soon with the completed video. 

I'll begin posting more project progress on here again and writing a little more about what kinds of research I'm doing for the future. For now I'm just excited to get started! 

CTNX!

I went on a brief hiatus this past week because I flew to California to attend the CTN Expo! It was my first year attending the expo and my first time on the west coast, so even though I was still getting work done I stuck to Instagram and Facebook for my updates while traveling. I got to meet a bunch of fantastic artists and was lucky enough to get a few incredibly useful portfolio reviews. I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time while waiting around the airport (got some fun sketches below), had some spare time to go see Griffith Observatory. And Thursday before the convention we visited Blizzard's Irvine campus!

The best part for me was getting to be around a lot of people who clearly love what they do. I didn't take many pictures of the actual convention because as it turns out, I'm terrible at taking pictures of events I go to. But it was bigger than I anticipated and I managed to come home with some pretty great prints that I may be doing some practice environments with. 

I tried to do some work in between being at the convention and boarding various planes. Most of it was some more wood sculpts and finally getting my normal maps working properly. I did a hi-res sculpt of my landscape and put it in Unreal just to see what it was looking like, here's the results: 

I won't be able to get into the labs to work on foliage until at least Monday night, so I'm also working on my cabin and getting all the details fixed up for that. Then I can start moving fully into Unreal and putting it all together. I'm excited for how it's coming along though, but deadlines are looming and I'm hoping to have some more filled out screenshots coming in the next few days. 

 

Cabin Progress

These updates are a little late- I was volunteering at GDEX this year, the Game Development Expo for the midwest. It's hosted in Columbus and I helped out as a presentation room attendant. Afterwards I got to walk around and see what other game developers are doing in the area, and was really surprised at the variety! CCAD also had a booth at GDEX and was showing Project Sphincter to everybody- I got to watch people play our game level, and actually really like it! That was pretty great, honestly. 

On Friday I made some more progress on my cabin, using some of the plank sculpts in ZBrush to start putting together a rough pass of all the wooden parts of the cabin: 

So this is a little late, but my next two milestones are to block in some rocks in the environment and model out the plane (minus the engine detail). I'd also like to go in and fix my landscape for the level. Those brushes I downloaded to do the planks also have some great landscape tools, and I'd like to get that going more realistically. If I've got some spare time in between all of that, I plan on doing some physics tests in Unreal just to see what I could do to get some water flowing in the level. 

 

A Break

Time for some good news: I finished my demo reel! It's now on the main page of my site as Environment Reel: Oct 2016. I got some good critique for it and rearranged a few things, and have submitted it for a few possible opportunities. 

Now it's the last day of my Fall Break (and likely the last day I'll have to do absolutely nothing for awhile). Yesterday I tried to step away from the computer for awhile and did some sketching. Not quite my Inktober schedule or prompts, but it was relaxing to just sit and draw what was around me for awhile. 

Sketches of Mr. Otis, the black lab that I was dogsitting this week! 

Unfortunately with my school schedule I've been totally wrapped up in making games but not so much in playing them. Today I dust off my PS3 and spend a few hours as a pirate in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag! 

Welcome to my blog!

Hello! 

In the past I've hosted my blog on Wordpress, but I've decided to move my posts here. My previous blog was sporadically updated and contains work from early on in my time at CCAD. I'll keep it up and you're more than welcome to visit it here, but from now on I'll be posting all updates on this page. 

Right now I'm heading into my last semester here at CCAD, and my focus has shifted a little bit. I'm gearing my art towards the role of Environment Artist and I'm working on building up my portfolio. Most of what I'll be posting will be updates from current projects including sketches, models, project planning, and progress videos. But I'll also be showing the development of my personal branding, personal projects and sketches, and research into other artists and studios. 

I'm working on some projects that I'm pretty excited about, and I'm looking forward to sharing the journey with you! 

Abby