Media Students Create Work for Virtual Volcano Observatory

Media Students Create Work for Virtual Volcano Observatory

Drone footage, thermal scan of Geldingadalir, the volcano currently erupting in Iceland.

Drone footage, thermal scan of Geldingadalir, the volcano currently erupting in Iceland. Credit: Einat Lev, Columbia University

Fairfield students developed augmented and virtual reality media that will be presented as a part of Assistant Professor Patrick Brooks’ installation on NYC’s Governor’s Island this summer.

In this semester’s "New Media Workshop" (FTMA 2235), taught by Assistant Professor of Visual and Performing Arts Patrick Brooks, students developed innovative projects "from the ground up" in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

AR, which can be described as “a blending of the real and digital worlds,” amplifies views of the real world with computer-generated objects added on top, and is facilitated by a piece of technology like a smartphone or AR-enabled glasses. VR is a fully computer-generated simulation of a sight and sound experience that can be similar to — or completely different from — the real world; both technologies were integrated into the class.

“This was a natural fit for our course,” said Brooks. “We were exploring how digital experiences will change the ways in which we see the world.”

To kick off the course, students utilized new technologies to create Instagram face filter “masks.” Next, they built interactive virtual rooms that users could enter using VR headsets, and used 360-degree and 3D cameras to create a number of live-action VR films.

For their final projects, students had the option to create a digital experience for inclusion in Brooks’ work, which will be installed this summer as a part of the New York Virtual Volcano Observatory (NYVVO) in Nolan Park on New York City’s Governor’s Island. The NYVVO will be open to visitors from July through October 2021.

Brooks, a filmmaker in his own right, is particularly interested in making work that’s connected to the natural world. He collaborated with Benjamin Black, PhD, a volcanologist at CUNY City College to create the NYVVO or “a space [for] people [to] interact with volcanos in a place where they least expect it — NYC.” The project is a collaboration that also includes NYU, Columbia, Queens College, and others. The virtual volcano observatory exhibition will feature interviews, talks, and content filmed by volcanologists across the world, as well as home-grown projects like the ones Brooks and his Fairfield students will contribute.

Katharine Creamer ’23, a film, television, and media arts major at Fairfield, was one of the students who took Brooks up on the opportunity to work on the NYVVO for her final project. She utilized AR technology to build content which features an ancient and a current view of the site of a major volcanic eruption during the Permian era — the New Jersey Palisades that line the Hudson across from Manhattan. Both views will “pop up in front of visitors” when they scan a QR code in the gallery.

“I am extremely proud of my finished product,” Creamer said. “I'll admit that it took me out of my comfort zone, yet it all paid off in the end.”

Brooks explained that students entering the media industry are expected to be fluent in these technologies and this course prepares them not only how to think about the potential impact of AR/VR, but also how to make and tell stories using mixed reality media.

“The days in which someone can call themselves a 'traditional filmmaker' may be ending,” Brooks said. “We need to view ourselves as multi-faceted storytellers within the digital space.”

With a curriculum that focuses on merging traditional media with new media, the College of Arts and Science's Film, Television, and Media Arts (FTM) program at Fairfield University takes a dynamic approach to the study of narrative media that opens a world of exploration and creative possibilities. Learn more or apply to the program today.

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