UT Dallas Mobile Creation Piques Curiosity at SXSW

A social media platform for mobile devices created by Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) students is creating buzz at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin.

Placethings is one of 32 finalists in the second annual Accelerator Competition at SXSW Interactive, which has become the world’s premier emerging technology event.

Placethings beat out hundreds of other companies to become a finalist. Its EMAC student creators will present before a live audience and panel of judges at SXSW on March 15 at the Hilton Austin.

“Placethings creates personal, shareable layers of media on top of real-world locations, connecting places with stories,” according to Dean Terry, director of the UT Dallas EMAC program.  “Tell people about your trip, guide them through a city, tell stories about where you’ve been, what happened, and what is important with video, pictures, sound, and beautiful, shareable maps.”

Placethings was developed in EMAC’s MobileLab research group under Terry’s direction.  It was co-created by Terry, undergraduate Arts and Technology student Nicholas Spencer and EMAC graduate student John Syrinek.

Living Learning Communities Have a Busy Debut

Seminars and Guest Speakers Enrich Experience in New Residence Hall

Jan. 29, 2010

Living Learning Communities (LLC) at UT Dallas are off to a busy start after their first semester in the University’s new residence hall.

Freshmen began moving in to the residence hall, where the Living Learning Communities are situated, in August.

Community members have attended seminars given by experts in their fields of interest and interacted closely with UT Dallas faculty and staff members. Members have also connected with the community through volunteer projects and honed leadership skills through team-building workshops.

LLCs are small groups of freshmen who have joined together to share common academic goals or interests. Members live in the residence hall, attend at least one class a semester together and participate in enrichment activities and service projects.

Highlights from the fall semester included the following:

  • Art & Technology LLC  students met with industry experts, including a member of the Dreamworks studio, and key faculty members who discussed gaming, emerging media and 3D animation.  Students also toured the Janimation studio in Dallas.
  • The Engineering and Computer Science LLC volunteered nearly 100 hours at the BEST Robotics competition – an annual event that allows middle school children to design, build and test their robotic creations.  They also assisted in two Habitat for Humanity projects in Plano.
  • Music LLC members attended concerts by Gabriel Bianco and the Soli Chamber Ensemble. They also helped children create homemade musical instruments during the annual UT Dallas Family Day Carnival.
  • The Multicultural & Social Justice LLC met privately with Christina Chavez, granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Cesar Chavez. They also researched nutrition problems and visited a southern Dallas community to learn what happens when a community does not have access to a grocery store that offers healthy food products.
  • The Pre-Health Living Learning Community attended a UT Southwestern medical conference to learn more about medical school and the application process.  They participated in the Friday Night Friends program by caring for and engaging with special needs children so that their parents could have a night off to rejuvenate.  They also met with a panel of doctors and medical students in an event hosted by the Health Professions Advising Center.
  • School of Management Living Learning Community students began the year with a personal welcome from Dr. Hasan Pirkul, dean of the School of Management, and were also invited for an evening of dinner and conversation with SOM faculty. In preparation for the spring semester, the LLC organized a “scheduling party” and invited faculty to help them select courses for the new term.


ATEC Alumnus Builds Career, One Monster at a Time

Tony Tyler’s infatuation with computer animation began with Tron, the groundbreaking science fiction film from 1982. Decades later, he read an article in the UTD Mercury about the University’s new Arts and Technology (ATEC) program and thought perhaps he could learn how to create virtual worlds and the creatures to inhabit them.

B.O.B. (voiced by Seth Rogen) meets a hot little number in green at the Murphy family reunion in DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens.

Today, the ATEC alumnus brings characters to life for DreamWorks SKG, including those from Monsters vs. Aliens.

For the full-length animated film, Tyler worked as a technical director for the character effects department. The job involved pipeline engineering – creating software programs that provide the foundation, or skeleton, for animated images and link components – software development and troubleshooting artistic problems.

One of the most challenging aspects of his job was getting the cloth simulation, which replicates the texture and movement of woven material, robust enough for the movie.

From left: These Monsters — The Missing Link (Will Arnett), Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon), B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), Insectosaurus and Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie) — defend the planet in DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens.

Monsters vs. Aliens was the most complicated film DreamWorks has done in terms of simulated cloth,” Tyler said. “Every character – even the little ones way in the background – had simulated cloth, which added an awesome touch of realism.

“The challenge was to make it as easy as possible for the artists to use while allowing them the flexibility to implement their creative whims.”

His favorite character of the film is B.O.B., a brainless, indestructible gelatinous blob voiced by Canadian-American actor Seth Rogen.

“Everything B.O.B. says in the film is sheer comic genius and really stood out for me as one of the most enjoyable parts of Monsters vs. Aliens,” said Tyler. “B.O.B. the animated character did some pretty amazing things. I was fortunate to be able to help develop a pipeline that helped the artists truly bring that character to life.”

Tyler graduated in 2004 from the University with a master’s degree in Arts and Technology. He studied 3-D animation and film, as well as game development and production.

“The ATEC program fostered a belief in myself and my creative abilities that didn’t exist until that point,” said Tyler. “I am so very proud of all that I accomplished in my time there, and very thankful for all the support and opportunities I was afforded.”

Monsters vs. Aliens was released in March, and grossed more than $59 million its opening weekend. The movie’s worldwide box office receipts since its opening total $364,691,105.

“Tony’s dedication and technical and aesthetic background have prepared him for a leadership role in the world of special effects-based entertainment and interactive communications,” said ATEC program director and Arts and Humanities Distinguished Chair Thomas Linehan. “He will have a major design-role early in his professional career because he is well–trained in both arts and technology.”

The Arts and Technology program in the School of Arts and Humanities offers bachelor’s, master’s and master’s of fine arts degrees.

ATEC Student’s Twitter Video Makes Waves

Project Documents History Prof’s Use of Popular Service as a Teaching Tool

An Arts and Technology student’s video account of a professor’s classroom experiment with Twitter is making waves on the World Wide Web, capturing thousands of viewers on YouTube and prompting an article in U.S. News & World Report.

“I have gotten several direct messages from people saying that they were more ‘traditional’ and would not have considered using the social networking and micro-blogging tools in this way, but opened their minds after seeing the video.” Kim Smith, creator of "The Twitter Experiment"

UT Dallas graduate student Kim Smith’s video, “The Twitter Experiment,” shows how Dr. Monica Rankin, assistant professor of history in the School of Arts and Humanities, uses Twitter to engage her 90-student history class in discussion.  The communication application helps overcome the logistical issues involved in having scores of students interact in a short time span and encourages shy students to participate in the course.

“The video is a living example of what my Content Creation and Collaboration course with Dan Langendorf was all about: using emerging media technologies as a tool for education, collaboration with other fields, and documenting the experience for everyone to have access to,” said Smith.

Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that lets users send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets, in short posts of 140 characters or less.   The Twitter video was a course project for Smith’s digital video class.

The video, which took roughly 20 hours to record and edit, was shot during two class periods, one at the beginning of the semester and one at the end. Classmate Joe Chuang helped with the video and editing.

The collaboration of Smith and Rankin began when Smith documented a class trip to Guanajuato, Mexico, in 2008. They kept in touch via Facebook, and developed the idea of using Twitter in the classroom at the beginning of the Spring 2009 semester.

Smith worked out details on Twitter with Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) faculty members Dr. Dave Parry and Dean Terry, who referred her to individuals who had done similar experiments.  To get students comfortable with using Twitter in a classroom setting, Smith created a simple how-to video and attended class to help Rankin introduce the idea to her students.

The video was first released on Facebook; Terry and Parry both tweeted about it on Twitter and it went global within 48 hours.  New-media icon Howard Rheingold tweeted about it, which helped it further circulate in the “Twitterverse.”

“I have gotten several direct messages from people saying that they were more ‘traditional’ and would not have considered using the social networking and micro-blogging tools in this way, but opened their minds after seeing the video,” said Smith.

A few weeks later Smith posted the video on YouTube, and an entirely different wave of viewers picked up on it.  On Monday, June 1, “The Twitter Experiment” registered 500 views in a few hours. Read Write Web and other popular blogs had picked up the video, causing views to skyrocket.

“I love my classes and experience at UT Dallas and want to master how to use what I learn in EMAC to help professors like Dr. Rankin, who are willing to consider new technologies intelligently and experiment with what they offer,” said Smith.

Company Founded by UT Dallas Ph.D. Student Receives $1.5M Emerging Technology Grant

Hanson Robotics, Inc., of Dallas, founded by University of Texas at Dallas Ph.D. student David Hanson, received a $1.5 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund grant to help the young company take its new robotics technologies to market, according to an announcement made today by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Ph.D. candidate David Hanson's robots are noted for having realistic movements, interactions, and appearances.

The grant will enable Hanson Robotics to commercialize its patent-pending robot which has a more lifelike appearance than existing robots and speech recognition software that creates more realistic human-robotic interactions.  The technology promises many potential applications, including in areas such as prosthetics.

Dr. Mihai Nadin, the Ashbel Smith Professor who heads the Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems at UT Dallas, and colleagues will work with the firm on user interface and interactive design. Personnel from The University of Texas at Arlington’s Automation and Robotics Research Institute will be involved in manufacturing and mechanical design.

The $200 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the request of the governor. Since then, more than $44 million has been awarded from the fund in an effort to keep Texas competitive with other states in areas of new and innovative technologies.

Hanson is pursing a Ph.D. degree as a student in UT Dallas’ Institute for Interactive Arts and Engineering. The institute, headed by Dr. Tom Linehan, is devoted to the study of the effects technology can have on such fields as the arts, computer science, physics, filmmaking, literature and communications. Hanson has received worldwide media coverage in recent years for his breakthroughs in creating lifelike androids.