Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Class You Wish You Could Take

Another by-product of reading about Randy Pausch and watching The Last Lecture was the discovery of the most ultra-cool university course ever in existence. You know, the one you wish you could have taken. Building Virtual Worlds throws artists and computer geeks together in teams of four or five to work for a few weeks building a single virtual world using cool technology like head mounted displays and trackers. After they're done, new teams are created and they start again. The results are spectacular.

In slightly more detail, the site describes the course as follows:
Building Virtual Worlds' goal is to take students with varying talents, backgrounds, and perspectives and put them together to do what they couldn't do alone. The key thing is that there are no "idea people" in the course; everyone must share in the mechanical creation of the worlds. Students use 3D modeling software (Maya), painting software (Photoshop), sound editing software (Adobe Audition & Pro Tools), and Panda3D, a programming library originally developed by Walt Disney Imagineering's Virtual Reality studio, to display our virtual reality worlds. The course uses unique platforms such as the Head-Mounted Display and Trackers, the Jam-O-Drum, the TrackBox, the Playmotion, camera-based audience interaction techniques, Quasi the robot, and others.

Looking back to my undergrad years, I know I would have loved this class, but at the same time, I know I would have signed up with trepidation. The thought of working with new groups every few weeks would have been worrisome. Who knows when you'd get stuck with people who just didn't do their share? There's no way to complete a good project in such a short time unless everyone contributes. In the end, though, I think that this fear would have been for naught. I don't think you'd take this class "just for the credit." You wouldn't sign up without knowing about and being ok with the workload. Would it work at all schools? Not likely. But there seems to be something special about Carnegie Mellon and their marriage of art and technology (just look at their Entertainment Technology Center). I think it's ok to be envious!

Enough talk, let's see some of the projects!

Hello World was featured in The Last Lecture and is still one of my favorites. I love how the cute little bunny character and the world created for it suddenly goes dark when it's time to call it quits.

Virtual Reality: Wave of the Future is equally as funny. It plays like an educational film from the 50's, (sort of) explaining why virtual reality is going to be important and popular in the future.

Finally, River Rafting shows how you can make a game instead of an interactive video.

There are many more videos of the worlds created on the course's website. They are all worth checking out! While you watch, you may as well ask yourself... could I do this? What world would I make? I don't quite have an answer for myself, except for some beginnings of ideas...


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