ATEC Team Creates Exercises in Science with Museum Video Games

Feral hogs are destroying local farms, colonies of bees are disappearing and giant asteroids are on a collision course with Earth. But there’s hope: You can help solve these problems by playing the newest video games developed by UT Dallas students.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the University’s Arts and Technology (ATEC) program have collaborated during the past nine months to create a series of educational games that emphasize the importance of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The results of this collaboration are on display in the Game Lab, a dedicated space in the Perot Museum that allows guests to play the games.

The games are intended to provide a fun, interactive learning experience that also enhances the understanding of science with simulations.

“Over the last several months, our teams have collaborated to create video games we believe can be fun, engaging platforms for exploring important real-world science topics,”said Steve Hinkley, vice president of programs for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.
“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

“Through this project, our guests will experience the unique creations of some of the next generation’s brightest minds — and the UT Dallas students have an opportunity to inspire tens of thousands of people through their work. It’s a winning combination for everyone involved.”

The games at the museum include: “Gravity Defense,” an interactive game where users save the Earth from asteroids by moving their bodies in an attempt to pull asteroids safely away from Earth; “Pollen Nation,” which allows players to control a collection of bee colonies to pollinate the United States — players do this while battling colony collapse disorder; and “Stop the Hogs,” which challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

The students started designing their games in the spring semester, with more than 20 initial ideas. With the help of ATEC professor Dr. Timothy Christopher and Bonnie Pitman, distinguished scholar in residence and co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, the students narrowed their focus and developed the games. The class is spending the fall semester testing and implementing the games for public use at the museum.

Bonnie Pitman
Bonnie Pitman

“The creativity and responsiveness of ATEC students and the excellent collaboration with the Perot Museum’s staff led to the development and evaluation of new resources using technologies for teaching science in the museum,” Pitman said.

“It has also given the students an opportunity to work with a nationally recognized science museum and to test, revise and present their ideas with the public. UTD’s Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums has been an active collaborator in this initiative that supports the University’s partnerships with the museums in our communities.”

Graduate student Stephenie Edwards was one of the students involved in the yearlong project.

“Working with the Perot Museum has been an amazing experience,” Edwards said. “All of the students have worked hard to get these games into the Game Lab. Knowing that so many people will have a chance to play the games is a rewarding dream come true for a lot of students interesting in making games.”

Animation Students Find Ideal Habitat for Producing ‘Sticky’

A young chameleon is learning how to blend in with his environment in a new short film from UT Dallas’ Arts and Technology (ATEC) program.

Sticky is the brainchild of 32 undergraduate and graduate students who spent two semesters planning, drafting, building and editing the short. The multidisciplinary production team consisted of various types of artists, animators and designers. Overseeing the students were assistant professor Eric Farrar and associate professor Todd Fechter.

“It takes a year to complete a project of this size. We start at zero,” Farrar said. “Students pitch ideas, storylines, and after we select one story to work on, we spend time refining the narrative. The next steps involve building everything from scratch — the characters, the characters’ environment, the texture, lighting. It takes a long time to achieve a final product.”

Farrar and Fechter bring years of industry experience that helps guide the long process. Farrar worked on the films Night at the Museum and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Fechter has worked on the television series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius on Nickelodeon.

designing sticky
Thirty-two undergraduate and graduate students spent two semesters planning, drafting, building and editing Sticky. For behind-the-scenes details about the short, visit the course’s website.

This is the second project that has emerged from the two-semester animation studio course. Last year, students released FrightLite, a film about a boy who grapples to overcome his fear of monsters. This time around, Farrar said the makeup of the students altered the outcome of the project.

“Each class has a slightly different concentration of skills and talents among the students. This year, our animation, the movements, are perhaps a bit simpler, but the look and feel is more sophisticated,” Farrar said.

The openness of the space invites students to gather on their own to meet and solve problems. People are more likely to run into each other here. The quality of the building certainly adds to the success of our projects.

Eric Farrar,
Assistant Professor

Students said the class was centered on building and maintaining positive relationships among one another.

“Just like in any successful studio, this class is all about teamwork, respect, dedication and hard work,” said Huda Hashim, who is pursuing a master’s degree. “When talented students collaborate on the creation of an animated short, you realize that there is always more room to learn and improve to become the best that you can.”

Hashim said that she hopes her experiences better prepare her for a future in the world of animation.

“This class creates an energetic environment for dedicated students to explore and learn new 3-D techniques, and the ability to connect with other students and professors was beneficial,” she said.

Hashim said she is enrolled in the third iteration of the class, which started this semester, to remain motivated and challenged.

While working on Sticky, students were, for the first time, housed in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. Farrar said the new space provided new places for students to work together outside of class time.

“The openness of the space invites students to gather on their own to meet and solve problems,” said Farrar. “People are more likely to run into each other here. The quality of the building certainly adds to the success of our projects.”

IDSA Fellow to Speak on How Design Creates the Future

The User Experience Club at UT Dallas will host Brian Roderman, President and Chief Innovation Officer IN2Innovation on October 30 at 7:30 pm. Roderman will discuss How Design Creates the Future in ATC 2.918.

Brian Roderman
Brian Roderman

IN2 Innovation is a global innovation design consultancy that helps companies rapidly realize new products and services by using a systematic process to generate inspirational property that drives growth and profitability.

K-Force will be provide pizza and refreshments. Kforce is a professional staffing and solutions firm specializing in the areas of technology, finance & accounting and health information management serving commercial and government organizations.

About Brian Roderman

Brian Roderman is the President and Chief Innovation Officer of IN2 Innovation.  Brian has worked in the design consultancy business for 25 years, and is frequently a featured speaker on design and innovation at events and symposiums worldwide.  He has extensive design experience in consumer electronics, consumer products, housewares, transportation, telecommunications, and business-to-business industries.

He is active with the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA), having held six terms on the IDSA National Board of Directors.  He was recently awarded an IDSA Fellowship, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member within the society.

Michael Naimark to Speak on Art and Invention

Media artist and researcher Michael Naimark will speak on Art and Invention as part of the Arts and Technology Colloquium Series. His talk will take place Tuesday, Oct. 28 from noon-1 pm in ATC 1.201.

Artists and designers sometimes invent – new processes, media, or technologies – in the name of realizing their work. Invention isn’t the primary motivation, and the works are often clunky, frugal, and just barely working (but working!).

Michael Naimark
Michael Naimark

Broader, practical, or commercial applications are usually far from the artist’s mind. Meanwhile, and perhaps ironically, large research and commercial institutions spend billions of dollars per year on invention, often in the same arenas. 

So the critical question is: how do artists fit in? We will explore this question – and such issues as control and compromise; ownership and intellectual property; time horizon and profitability; and cultural consequence and hegemony – mining my art projects and experiences for lessons learned.

About Michael Naimark
Michael Naimark is a media artist and researcher who has been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with an uncanny track record of art projects presaging widespread adoption, often by decades. He is noted in the histories of Google Street ViewProjection Mapping, and Virtual Reality (and, some claim, the Facebook Like Button); and in ongoing work with cinematic crowdsourcinglive global video, and cultural heritage.

Michael’s immersive and interactive art installations have exhibited internationally and are in the permanent collections of American Museum of the Moving Image, the Exploratorium, and the ZKM Center for Arts and Media. He was the recipient of the World Technology Award for the Arts in 2002 and was guest curator at Ars Electronica in 2004 and 2009. In recent years he’s served as faculty at USC Cinema, NYU Art, and the MIT Media Lab.

ATEC Professor Exhibited by The Dallas Contemporary

DREAMARCHITECTONICS is an audio-visual work installed in an acoustically-controlled space that proposes an experience favorable to the state of reverie. Presented by ATEC Professor Frank Dufour and Lee Dufour of Agence 5970 at the Dallas Contemporary.dreamarch

An Interactive Audio-Visual Installation
by Frank + Lee Dufour of Agence 5970

Dallas Contemporary

17 Oct – 21 Dec 2014


Friday, Oct. 17
7-9 pm
Artist Talk at 7.30 pm

Free and open to the public.

DREAMARCHITECTONICS is an interactive audio-visual installation that aims to infuse into the space a state of reverie or meditation in order to explore the structure of dreams.  Entering this space, the participant is immersed in a sphere of controlled quietness created by aerial active noise-cancellation.

Within this space, a book offers extracts of poetic texts, evocative of dreams. When read aloud, the chosen text is analyzed according to the acoustic and temporal signature of the reader’s voice, thus controlling the visual and musical output.  The resulting audio-visual sequence is designed to reveal the structural connections among the images suggested by the text.

The tuning between the system and the participant forms a syntonic experience similar to the effort of the remembrance of dreams.  The work seeks to present this fragile and fugacious sensation of movements in images, sounds and meanings occurring in dreams and attempts to render perceivable the altered experience of Time, characteristic of the dream-state.