Viz activation highlighted TAMU House at South by Southwest

The boundless nature of visualization studies at Texas A&M was celebrated in a visually stunning, interactive exhibition March 11–14 at South by Southwest, Austin’s giant annual convergence of festivals showcasing the interactive, film and music industries.

The Collision of Art & Technology,” an activation orchestrated by Department of Visualization students and faculty, was one of several Aggie-centric SXSW Interactive events on tap at the Texas A&M House, headquartered March 10­–14 at the Van Zandt Hotel in downtown Austin.

Focused on creative interplay at the nexus of technology and deeply resonant art, the visualization activation at the Texas A&M House was designed to assure SXSW patrons will forever connect the Department of Visualization with thought-provoking innovation.

"Visualization at Texas A&M is big and broad and that's what we want to show off at SXSW,” said Tim McLaughlin, visualization department head. “Our faculty and students explore, create, answer questions and solve problems across a wide range of fields.”

On the vanguard of a modern renaissance in high-tech imaging, information and media systems, visualization programs at Texas A&M bring together artists, scientists, architects and engineers who collaborate to create new knowledge and transformative educational experiences like those featured at the SXSW activation.


The Collision of Art & Technology activation featured:

Time-based work compilation: Greeting visitors as they entered the Meriwether Ballroom, an 80” display featured short animations and films created by the digital wizards, or “Vizzers,” from Texas A&M’s Department of Visualization. Along with class projects and kinetic animations, reel highlights included several short features developed in the department’s Summer Industry Workshop, which emulates a real-world studio production pipeline. In the workshop, students collaborate with professionals from many of the nation’s leading animation studios, like DreamWorks AnimationWalt Disney Animation StudiosPixar,  Reel FX, and Industrial Light and Magic.

Serious gaming: Students from the Learning Interactive Visualization Experience Lab demonstrated two popular educational video games initially conceived in the lab and now on the market. One game, “Variant,” provides a fun way to learn calculus, and the other, “Arté Mecenas,” is widely used to teach art history.

“Interspace 3, After ‘Man Will be an Island’” is an interactive, screen-based multimedia art installation by Morgan Jenks, assistant professor of practice. The work reflects the artist’s own fascination and anxiety with the naturalness of technology and humanity's relationship with the non-man-made. It employs a 3-D scanned image of a White Oak tree that is distorted by viewer activity in reaction to facial recognition and motion tracking software, gradually returning to its original state when no activity is detected. The piece uses a webcam, computer, TV and custom software.

“Liminal,” another interactive multimedia art, is the work of Shuvashis Das, a Master of Fine Arts in Visualization student. Das created software to generate pulsating, colorful projections from an audio track of his breathing that turn a resin-coated, fabricated foam object into a lifelike form. His software generates additional projections of colors, rhythms and geometry in real time from motion detectors tracking those who engage the work.

Imagining the post-human self: A series of three sculptures that progressively replace the human form with technology constituted artist Anatol Bologan’s contribution to the Viz activation. The first sculpture in the series, molded from Bologan’s own face, resembles a death mask fitted in front of and “made alive” by computer circuitry. In the second sculpture, the human form progressively succumbs to technology until, in the third iteration, it morphs into a cyborg-like collection of computer boards with functioning video cameras as eyes recording the interaction of activation patrons.

Digitally enhanced objects with therapeutic value: Employing digital technology and a lot of ingenuity, Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, assistant professor of visualization, and students are developing innovative techniques that enhance human interaction with everyday objects such as stuffed toys and houseplants, while providing therapeutic value for those afflicted with wide range of physical and psychological ailments.

Canine anatomy in virtual space: Donning a HTC Vive virtual reality headset, SXSW patrons learned about canine anatomy using a virtual teaching tool developed by recent Master of Fine Arts graduate Brian Smith. With the device’s handheld controllers, viewers assembled and manipulated a virtual dog skeleton and attached and flexed its muscles. The application is being developed in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science at Texas A&M.

A dress of many colors: Studded with LED lights, this gown was worn in a dance department performance augmented with props crafted by Vizzers. The gown is one of several interactive costumes created by Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, assistant professor of visualization. The lights can be controlled by the dancer or remotely to evoke a wide range of emotions as interpreted in colors, patterns and pulses.

A menagerie of 3-D printed curiosities — realistic and fanciful creatures and characters, abstract sculptures and complex geometric shapes designed by students and faculty were exhibited at SXSW. Among them were the woven and undulating shapes and Gordian knots of Ergun Akleman, a professor of visualization who specializes in shape modeling, geometric data structures, non-photorealistic rendering and volume modeling and rendering.

Flatwork exhibit: Art and technology collide in the wide range of Vizzer-created digital imagery, photos and illustrations of worlds and characters real and imagined, rendered in high-resolution digital prints to complement the SXSW Viz activation.


Richard Nira

posted March 7, 2017