Carnegie Mellon University

Building Virtual Worlds

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An Unforgettable Experience

Steampunk

The Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) show is simply an unforgettable experience.

Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) presented the most recent show Dec. 2, shining a spotlight on the most impressive student work from this semester’s BVW class. Leading up to the show, the faculty organizers and students involved with the production gave us their thoughts.

“This is an exciting year for the BVW show,” said Jesse Schell, who co-instructs the course with Mk Haley. “We have some fascinating new worlds that really show the creativity and skill of the new ETC students. For the first time the show is in a real theater — and we have two shows, so hopefully we don't have to turn anyone away this year. This has the potential to be the best BVW show yet.”

One of the show's highlights was The Great Space Airship, a story of two rival steampunk inventors, the evil Baron Octavius Von Merriwether and the heroic Sir Maximillian Wigglebottom, who are each trying to be the first person to reach the moon.

The team got an audience volunteer to act as Sir Wigglebottom's assistant and help him navigate to the moon.

“I loved creating engaging experiences with a team of talented individuals in a relatively short amount of time," said Freddie Sulit (ETC'11), who was sound designer and producer for the project — and relied on his background in improvisational theater in his role as Wigglebottom onstage. “Teamwork and communication were the big lessons from the BVW class. It was important to figure out what each team could create that only could be created by that specific group of individuals. The results were often impressive, but the process was more educational than the product.”

The class taught Sulit that patience is a requirement when it comes to explaining and understanding ideas in a group.

“The second toughest challenge was making the technology cooperate with our vision,” he said.

Rachel Berkowitz (ETC'11) was one of several students with more than one world featured in the show. Berkowitz plays violin for an interactive performance called "Farewell.” She was also sound designer for "Loony Balloony's Nightmare," which features a balloon animal trying to avoid harm from sharp falling objects; and "Oreo and Raisinet: A Bittersweet Love Story," which uses WiiMotes to tell an interactive story about candy bars that fall in love.

Berkowitz's team took a risk with new technology.

“Detecting pitch from a violin and having synchronized animations be created from that was something really new. We didn't know for sure if we would pull it off,” Berkowitz said. “I'm not a programmer, or an artist. Having to trust in other people's abilities was really hard … and they really amazed me in the end.”

While not featured in the show, one team’s work — a virtual snowball battle — was the topic of a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

BVW was founded more than a decade ago by the late professor Randy Pausch.

Photo by Stephen Dewhurst: Freddie Sulit (ETC'11) as Sir Maximillian Wigglebottom

Related Links: Read Post-Gazette Article  |  Featured Worlds  |  Entertainment Technology Center