A Must-See Event: The Building Virtual Worlds Show
Carnegie Mellon Homepage Stories, December 2009

Rachel Berkowitz, Photo Credit: Stephen DewhurstFor those of you who haven’t seen a Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) show, here’s your chance to witness an unforgettable experience.

On Dec. 2, Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in Pittsburgh presents the most impressive student work from this semester’s BVW class.

“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 highlights will be 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.

“We will get an audience volunteer to act as Sir Wigglebottom's new assistant and help navigate him to the moon,” said Freddie Sulit (ETC'11).

Sulit was sound designer and producer for the project. He will also be relying on his background in improvisational theater in his role as Wigglebottom onstage.

“I loved creating engaging experiences with a team of talented individuals in a relatively short amount of time,” Sulit said. “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) is 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. The first show is open to the general public and starts Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Purnell Center’s Chosky Theater. A later show — by invitation-only — takes place at 6:00 p.m.

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

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