This Month in XR: July Summary Post

This Month in XR is Studio X’s YouTube channel. One episode will be uploaded at the end of each month to give you a closer look into some of the cool things that are going on in the world of XR. The findings we share will be different each month and can range from exciting XR developments in higher ed to new VR games to information about software updates.

This post is a summary of July’s This Month in XR vlog. For full content, see the video here!

T-REX snags grant to launch new ‘extended reality’ facility
Link to Original Article

An innovative and entrepreneur development facility in St. Louis Missouri, T-REX, received a grant to launch a new facility that focuses primarily on advancing innovation in the field of XR technologies.
The assistant secretary of commerce for economic development said that the grant will allow their company to “align academic, government and industry partners to develop new XR technologies, foster remote learning, and create opportunities for business events designed to spur economic growth in the industry.”
The new lab will provide technological equipment, resources, and expertise to those wanting to innovate in the AR and VR fields.

GIGXR Awarded Phase II SBIR Contract to Develop Extended Reality (XR) Simulation Training for Air Force Academy
Link to Original Article

GIGXR, a provider of immersive learning solutions for leading universities and medical systems around the world, received a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Research contract to develop XR simulations for the Air Force Academy.
The application, dubbed HoloChem, will use mixed reality to engage students while also taking them through the base principles of learning in a true chemistry lab.

How Astronauts Are Using VR & AR Aboard The ISS
Link to Original Article

Astronauts are using a  variety of XR technologies to help assist in a range of tasks such as maintenance, science experiments, and other various jobs on the ISS. One flight engineer used AR technology through a modified version of the Microsoft HoloLens to research “fundamental and quantum physics at extremely low temperatures.”
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency utilizes VR technology to conduct physics tests to see how astronauts visually translate motion in microgravity.

Oculus’ New Experimental API Blends Virtual Reality With Your Real-World Surroundings
Link to Original Article

Facebook has begun working with a new application called Passthrough API that will allow Oculus Quest 2 users to play some MR games. The software allows applications on the headset to blend reality with the games, while also allowing the player to toggle the opacity of the MR they are experiencing.
Facebook has made it clear that the Passthrough API will not have access, view, or store any images of your physical environment, for the safety of the user.

Immersive Tech Brings the Tokyo Olympics To Life At Home
Link to Original Article

As we are still seeing effects of the pandemic, most people were unable to travel to see the Olympics. the NBC Olympics VR app will be broadcasting several events live using stereoscopic 360 to make people feel as if they are really there.
Event organizers are also working with True View from Intel to allow viewers to experience events from any angle they wish. Those who are able to attend in person have the option of AR headsets for the swimming events that broadcast detailed race information during certain competitions.

Virtual Reality Game Improves Patient Stillness for MRI
Link to Original Article

Matthew David Hall and the Reimagine Well team creates a pre-MRI VR game that is used to get patients used to the stimuli that an MRI presents. The three levels get progressively harder and longer, progressing from black and white to color images. The patient’s goal is to keep the crosshairs within the bounds of the circle.
The game not only helps patients get accustomed to the noises of the MRI, but also allows the doctors to gauge how long a patient will be able to stay still for during the exam.

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

My Journey With Blender and Some Tutorials to Get You Started!

3D model of a UR quad fox.

3D modeling can seem like something for just the professionals with fancy equipment, expensive programs, and hours upon hours of time. What if I told you that you could do 3D modeling using Blender on your own laptop, for free, and create a starter project in under an hour? Blender is a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software tool set used for creating a wide variety of things. With the models you create in Blender, you could go on to create animated films, 3D printed models, computer games, and even things in virtual reality.

I started learning Blender in Fall of 2020 through a class offered at the University. As a Creative Writing major, I never would have guessed that I would one day learn to use a 3D modeling software. After being so used to creating things with words on paper and making the occasional doodle with pen on paper, the idea of creating in 3D seemed so foreign to me. I was initially taking the class to fill a requirement but realized that I enjoyed using Blender and 3D modeling quite a bit. I already enjoyed drawing and doing other forms of digital art, so Blender soon began to feel like the next natural progression for me once I was introduced to the software.

After taking the class and getting the hang of things, I proceeded to remove it from my computer’s home screen and didn’t think about it again. The class had been stressful, and I thought that I would never need to use the program again. When the Spring rolled around, however, I got my position at Studio X. As part of my training, I was asked to attend one of Studio X’s workshops to better understand our programming goals and approach to engaging new XR users. I chose to attend one on Blender, since I was at least familiar with the software. During this workshop, I created a frog:

This frog helped me become reinterested in Blender, and before I knew it, I was making all sorts of little projects in my free time. I realized that Blender was more fun than the class had let me realize, as in Blender, you can create anything you can imagine! Now I hope to inspire others to introduce themselves to the software so they can get creative in their free time.

If you are interested in getting started with Blender, you’re in the right place. This article provides 6 beginner blender tutorials ranging from easy difficulty for those getting started for the very first time, to a harder difficulty for those who want a challenge or are working their way through this list!

Tips to keep in mind as we go:

  • When rendering your final projects, most of the tutorials recommend that you use Cycles. If you are doing this tutorial on a high-end desktop computer or at an innovation station in Studio X, that should be ok. If you are working from your own laptop, however, I would recommend sticking to Eevee, unless you have a super amazing laptop, otherwise you’ll be sitting there for hours waiting for it to render!
  • Most but not all of these tutorials have varying versions of shortcut viewer in either the left- or right-hand bottom corner of the blender viewport. Shortcut viewer allows you to see which buttons the instructor is pressing in case they forget to mention it.
  • The software may feel overwhelming, but as long as you remember to pause the video to follow along with the steps, it becomes quite manageable!

Easy

Blender 3D – Easy Lowpoly Car – Beginners Tutorial

This tutorial is great for people who are wanting to get an easy start in Blender. I was able to complete this tutorial in under an hour, and this does include all the times I paused to follow along. A few things that you might find a little hard to follow along with are the many shortcuts he uses but doesn’t take all that long to explain.

Adding Objects to the scene. He uses the shortcut Shift + A. If you find yourself forgetting this or would rather do it the long-handed way, you can instead go to the top left-hand corner of the screen where you will find the “Add” button. Hover over this and you will see the same menu.

Moving objects along an axis after duplication. This happened first when he is duplicating the wheels, and the command is Shift + D to duplicate. I was initially struggling with the “then press Y to move along the Y-axis, as what he doesn’t mention is that you release the “Shift + D” before hitting “Y.”

Other Notes to keep in mind:
I was having a little trouble with my Blender not showing me the colours that I was applying to my car, so to check, you can render out the image by going to the top left-hand corner and hovering over “Render” then selecting “Render image.” You may have to reposition the camera before this, though, as the rendering comes from what the camera sees [he explains cameras and positioning starting around 19:50]. The shortcut for rendering is F12.

The first part of the video [0:00-14:00] is all about the modeling, from [14:00-18:51] is all about the coloration of the car. From [18:51-end] he is playing around with the scene and lighting.

Here is the outcome I got when following along with the tutorial!

[2.8] Blender Tutorial: Simple Animation For Beginners

This tutorial provides the simplest introduction to animation that I’ve seen, and I think that it’s perfect for those just getting started. The instructor keeps to using very simple shapes, nothing more than several cubes and a plane. He doesn’t have the shortcut viewer on, but he explains everything step-by-step in a super easy-to-follow fashion. When something might be a little confusing, text appears on the screen with the instructions of what buttons to click. There were only a few instances in which I had to pause and squint at the screen to see which tab he’d clicked into. I was able to complete this tutorial in under 30 minutes, so it’s great if you only have a little bit of time!

Here is my animation result!


Medium

Rig your Own Ghost in Blender 3D for Halloween – EASY

This tutorial leans a little more to the medium-easy side. I would say that it’s pretty good overall, though the instructor goes through the steps quite fast and I found myself pausing a lot more often than I was in the “easy” tutorials. There are a few things he neglects to explain, so here are some of the things that stuck out to me the most!

[5:57] He magically transitions from Edit Mode to having the object be a pretty rainbow gradient. What he actually does is switch from Edit Mode to Weight Paint mode. He was able to tab into the mode due to his own personal settings, but here’s how you can do it: Go to the Upper left-hand corner of the screen to where you will likely see either “Object” or “Edit” mode. If you click this drop-down menu, you will see “Weight Paint” as an option.

[6:59] When pinning the ghost to the circle, make sure you click the ghost, then the circle, then ctrl +P (Order matters for a lot of things in blender!)

[7:10] When he says he’s going to grab the keyframe, there’s a small bar at the bottom of the screen in the center that has a little circle button (next to the play buttons). That button will grab a keyframe. You can also use the shortcut “I” which will prompt you to select which type of keyframe. For the purposes of this tutorial, just select “Location” in addition. When he moves the ghost over to pin a second keyframe, notice that you have to move the time bar across the bottom first, before moving the circle, otherwise it will just override the previous keyframe.

Note! At around timestamp 10:17,  I the video gets a little harder. You have completed the ghost’s body at this point, but the video then moves onto texture painting. Though the video itself has only run for about 10 minutes by this point, a beginner should stop here as this part took me about 40ish minutes to complete.

Here is the outcome of my ghost! (I chose to simply colour in two squares for the eyes):


Hard

Low Poly Island | Beginner | Blender 2.8 Tutorial

Note: Studio X does not endorse the sponsor of the video!

This tutorial does a good job of explaining each step of the process. the reason I would rate it a bit harder is because of the use of Nodes for textures, which can be tricky to follow along with at times. If you want the tutorial to remain at more of a beginner level, I would recommend stopping around timestamp 19:30, as at this point you have an island with the water and everything is already shaded. From 19:30 onwards, he begins to add more details like trees to the island. Going past 19:30 would also probably put you well past an hour for time of work. I looked at the comment section below the video and saw many people saying that the entire tutorial took them between 4-5 hours. I was able to do the island and the water alone  (with shading) in about 1 hour.

Things that might be confusing explained:

If you have the latest version of blender, set the resolution in the Dynotypo to 0.5 instead of 6! This is the new setting for low poly. If you put it to 6, it will be way too smooth!

10:34- Make sure you set the sun strength to something around 5-10! This is equivalent to the energy.

13:15 – He says to look at the blend settings. If you have a more up to date version of Blender, you will have to open the settings tab on the node editor.

14:21 – After you’ve selected “vertex paint” go to the shader editor window (where the nodes are). You should have already added a base material. Click Shift + A and then search for “Vertex colors” and add that. Connect the Yellow color dot to the base color yellow dot (that’s on the large green material node). Then change the color to the color name (default is Col, so select that). Then your color should start appearing. NOTE: He explains this later around 15:50, but you will have already completed it as the different versions work slightly different.

Here is my result!

Create Satisfying 3D Animations | Easy Blender Tutorial

Studio X does not endorse the sponsor of the video!

This tutorial is simple, though a little confusing to follow along. There are some times at which I struggled a bit to follow along with what he was saying (there was a lot of pausing and restarting). Up until he starts adding the textures, a strong-willed beginner could complete this tutorial. Once he gets to the textures around timestamp 8:00, however, I might wait until you know a little more about Blender before you tackle that part! The only instance I was completely baffled was at timestamp 3:25. In order to extrude in the way he does, you have to hit “E” and then “S” for the scaled extrusion.

Here is my result!


Conclusion

My journey through learning Blender may be different from yours, but there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to get the hang of it in no time! You don’t need an entire semester-long class to learn to master the basics of Blender thanks to the many resources available on the internet. As long as you have a computer, at least an hour of time, and the motivation to create, I’m sure you will power through these beginner instructions.

As I followed through these tutorials for myself, I began relearning the things I had forgotten from the class that seemed to have happened so long ago. Now, I’m working to improve my skills a little bit every week. With my increasing experience with the software, I am hoping to lead an Advanced Blender workshop for those daring to take on the challenge! I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert at the software, but I’m certainly more confident than I was when I started. You too could learn these skills, and maybe even one day become a Blender master!

To download Blender for yourself, visit their website! https://www.blender.org/download/

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

Studio X Construction Updates

Studio X under construction.

After being a concept in our minds for so long, Studio X’s physical space is finally beginning to come to life! Starting the week after graduation, construction started on the first floor of Carlson. Some of our staff had the opportunity to visit the space and see how the progress is coming along. We were amazed by how large the space felt after staring at the rendering provided by our architects, CannonDesign for over a year. The journey has been documented on the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries Instagram: rclibraries.

Studio X under construction.
View of Studio X from the Landing Pad and Creativity Station area
Studio X under construction.
Standing in the Salon looking towards the Innovation Suite and Medium Collaboration Room
Studio X under construction.
Dry wall progress in the Learning Hub
Studio X under construction.
Medium Collaboration Room starting to take shape

In anticipation of our soft opening in the fall, our team has been busy planning workshops, drafting policies, and ordering and organizing equipment.

A person working to process a stack of VR headsets.
Tagging each headset and adding them to our equipment tracking system

Ten of these headsets will be available for use within Studio X, while the other 10 will be lendable for patrons to take outside of the library. We also received five Insta 360 One X2 360 cameras, which are versatile beginner-friendly cameras. You can also watch us unbox one of the Oculus Quests!

An open case with an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset in it.
An Oculus Quest 2 headset, unboxed, labeled, added to our equipment tracking system, and organized in its carrying case
a stack of headsets in their cases.
Preparing the Oculus Quest 2 headsets for outside lending

To stay up to date on the latest and greatest from Studio X, be sure to stay connected with us on social media!
Follow us on Instagram and Twitter
Join our Discord server
Subscribe to our Mailing List for our biannual newsletter

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

6 AR Apps to Get You into Augmented Reality

iPhone screenshot of a collection of augmented reality apps.

Augmented reality (AR) is an overlay of computer-generated images onto the real world. AR uses our existing reality as the basis of the experience, and with the help of a device, this creates an interactive experience for users. AR has snuck into mainstream media right under everyone’s noses. However, some people still feel intimidated by the idea of AR technology! If you think you’re new to AR and are looking for some experiences to try, here are some free apps to get you started!

Travel/Adventure: Pokémon Go

All increased spawns, encounters, and event raids and bonuses for Pokémon  Go's 5th Anniversary Event | Dot Esports
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Pokémon Go is the game that brought AR mainstream like no other, drawing in old school Pokémon fans and new gamers into its addicting world of Pokémon catching. When you create your avatar and log in for the first time, you join Trainers across the globe in discovering Pokémon as you explore the world around you. The AR aspect comes into direct effect when you are catching Pokémon, as not only do you have to travel around to find them, but you also see them appear on the ground right in front of you! Its unique mechanics force players to get up and walking because, in order to catch new Pokémon, you have to be actively moving around. When you travel to well-known locations in your town, you may even find exciting monuments in the game such as Gyms and gift locations. You don’t have to play alone either. You can link up with your friends to share items, collect rare Pokémon, fight in Raid Battles, and more!

Science: FLARMINGOS

Kristin Lucas: Dance with flARmingos | Pioneer Works | 159 Pioneer Street,  Red Hook, Brooklyn
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This app populates your surroundings with AR flamingos that you can interact with through several functions on your screen. The FLARMINGOS are virtual representations of wild flamingos that the creator developed informed by scientific research. They were animated using human motion and a dynamic flocking algorithm that influences their collective behavior. If you have your friends download this informational app, you can work together to create a flock and watch as they dance to the music!

Social Justice: Breonna’s Garden

Welcome to Breonna's Garden
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She who plants a garden plants hope. This is the message you first see upon opening the app. Soon, music cues, and you watch a slideshow filled with various images of Breonna from her lifetime. After watching the moving slideshow, you scan your environment briefly with your camera and watch as Breonna’s Garden blooms. in the center of the garden stands a 3D model of Breonna. This AR app evolved from a tool to help her family grieve, to a tool used by the nation. It was created with the intention of it being a peaceful refuge where her name can be said without negation and where you can give yourself a moment to surrender and let go.  Brimming with art, life, and beauty, the Garden is not only a sacred space to honor Breonna Taylor, but also to celebrate someone you miss. This app is best experienced in a quiet place where you feel comfortable sharing your feelings.

Nature: Candide

Augmented Reality: Is this the Future of Plant Records? - Botanical Software
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If you are a plant lover, Candide is the app for you! Not only can this app identify your plants for you through a simple photo, but it also serves as a form of social media app for plant lovers! If you have a plant you’ve long forgotten the name of, a quick snap and scan using Candide’s AR filter will do its best to identify the plant for you. If you’re unsure whether or not its identification is correct, you can post the plant to your feed and ask others for their opinion. The app also provides extensive information on how to care for various plants, what plants go well together, and how to make your plants the healthiest they can be!

History: Kinfolk

A Monumental Shift – Guernica
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Kinfolk empowers users to bring AR monuments of underrepresented icons into any home, school, or public space. This app allows the user to dive deeper into Black history. The app comes preloaded with stories of 6 different historical figures. Once you choose a figure, its stature appears right in front of you through the power of AR. While you gaze at their life-size visage, you get to read or listen to their bios, explore their playlists, and even explore additional resources through the Kinfolk web portal. The app starts with monuments of people that should be common knowledge, and they are working to build an archive that tells history from a perspective that you won’t find in schools.

Game: Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs

Angry Birds augmented reality game coming to mobile, initially exclusive to  iOS - 9to5Mac
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Whether you are a fan of the classic game or looking into AR games for the first time, Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs is a fun way to introduce you and your family to the world of AR games. This game takes you to a remote island right within your own home! Each of the 40 fun-filled levels appears on your floor, wherever you may be. The more space you have, the easier it is to play, as you can go as far as walking around the buildings to destroy them better! You are able to see the incredibly realistic characters and the structures of each level overlaying your own environment in real-time, making this Angry Birds game immersive like no other.

Conclusion

AR may seem daunting at first, but once you dip your toes into the world of AR apps, you’ll definitely come to see how easy it is to use this technology! People may think that they are not the right kind of person to use AR, but with the technology becoming so mainstream, there is bound to be an AR app out there for everyone! All the apps mentioned in this article are free to download, and there are many more out there to try. If you would like more recommendations of AR apps, or simply want to know more about AR technology, stop by Studio X and we can help you learn more!

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

VR Experience List

person in a virtual reality headset with an artsy backdrop

Are you new to VR and don’t know where to start or just looking for some new experiences to try? Studio X has you covered! Check out our reviews of some popular VR experiences.

To pique your interest, here’s a list of our top 5 favorites! The experiences listed below are a mix of different genres of VR, so there’s sure to be something for everyone.

First Person Shooter/Action: SUPERHOT

SUPERHOT VR on Oculus Quest | Terminals

If you’re looking for an action game that runs at your own pace, SUPERHOT can give you the experience you’re looking for! The best way to describe this game would be “strategy but make it chaotic.” Time moves when you move, no health bar, no ammunition drops. You get the resources you get, and one hit against you puts you back to the beginning of the level. Each stage puts you in a new situation in which you must eliminate the bad guys (red, glassy, people-like figures). The materials around you could range from nothing but your fists to bottles to guns that you’ve stolen off the enemy. The biggest component of SUPERHOT that makes it unique to other action games is that time only moves when you move. Whether it’s a simple flick of your wrist or you dodging a bullet, you control how your enemies and the environment around you moves. This may seem like an advantage at first, but it forces you to calculate your every move, making it an amazing strategy game.

Horror: Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted

Fnaf Vr Help Wanted Nightmare Foxy - Novocom.top

You don’t need to be a fan of the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise to enjoy this spooky game filled with all kinds of creepy scenery and jump scares!  This game can serve as the perfect introduction to the FNaF lore, as it not only contains all of the original games newly formatted for VR but also contains a series of original minigames created just for this experience. For those unfamiliar with the world of FNaF, the games have you play as a night guard at a Freddy’s pizzeria. Your shift runs from midnight to 6am, but there are killer animatronics coming after you! The scary part of this game is that you have a stationary position and cannot run. The only way for you to defend yourself is through looking at the security cameras to track the locations of the animatronics, your flashlight that’s attached to the cameras in each room, and the heavy-duty security doors that close off your office. But it’s not as simple as that, as you have limited battery power, and if you run out too early, its game over! This game is perfect for people who love horror, who love getting jump scared, or love the FNaF games.

Narrative: Traveling While Black

Traveling While Black: Official Teaser Trailer - YouTube

Traveling While Black is a 20 minute, immersive, cinematic VR experience that requires no action from the viewer. It immerses the viewer in the history of restriction of movement for Black Americans and the creation of safe spaces in our community. VR has often been described as an “empathy machine,” and this documentary is an eye-opening example of this terminology. This experience isn’t pleasant nor is it meant to be, but it is incredibly informative and thought-provoking. This experience is perfect for those interested in learning a little bit of history or for those who don’t want an interactive VR experience.

Rhythm: Beat Saber

Beat Saber' OST 4 Music Pack Releases for Free Today, Track List Here –  Road to VR

If you are looking for a game to help improve your hand-eye coordination or just love to dance to funky songs, beat saber is the perfect game for you! This game has a large focus on rhythm and allows an immersive experience that will leave you feeling like a music slicing ninja. The goal in each level is to slash the beats (represented by colored cubes depending on the level) as they rush towards you with the correct colored saber (either in your left or right hand). Your goal is to slice all the beats to the rhythm of the music while avoiding obstacles such as walls and bombs. The more accurate you are, the more points you will get! You can play a single player mode or can connect with friends who have the same oculus device. If you don’t have any friends to play with, you can connect with anonymous beat saber players for a fun multiplayer challenge!

Simulation: Job Simulator

Job Simulator Oculus Quest Review - Rapid Reviews UK

Can’t get enough of work and want to do more in a quirky VR world? Then Job Simulator is the game for you! Set in a world in which humans no longer do jobs for themselves, you get to learn what it was like to “have a job.” When immersing yourself into this game, you will get to simulate a variety of different jobs including but not limited to: gourmet chef, office worker, and convenience store clerk. According to the Oculus Store, some key jobbing features include: Throwing a stapler at your boss! Learning to ‘job’ in four not-so historically accurate representations of work-life before society was automated by robots! Using your hands to stack, manipulate, throw, and smash physics objects in an inexplicably satisfying way! Aggressively chugging coffee and eating questionable food from the trash! Gaining valuable life experience by firing new employees, serving slushy treats, brewing English tea, and ripping apart car engines! Working the never-ending night shift with Infinite Overtime mode! This game serves as a fun introduction to the VR gaming world for those who want a light-hearted, fun experience.

Conclusion

These games represent some of the many different categories of VR games that exist. If you didn’t see anything you like in this list or want to find some more cool experiences to try, go check out our VR Experiences Catalogue! This list will be ever-expanding as we try out many more new experiences, and as more are created. Some of these experiences will be available for you to try at Studio X, whether you want to check out a headset for a couple of days or want to come into the space for a couple of hours.

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

5 Books about XR Technology and Beyond: Get Yourself Thinking About the Future of Technology!

artsy book with a lightbulb in front of it.
Future of XR: Technology and Application
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This article serves to provide you with a list of various books that have a strong focus on XR technologies and futuristic concepts as well as a little bit of the history of these technologies. Some terms to know as you go:

XR – Extended Reality
The umbrella term used to describe all real and virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology. This includes AR, VR, and MR

VR – Virtual Reality
An immersive experience, also known as a computer simulated reality. It uses a VR headset to generate sounds and images that can either replicate the real world or create an imaginary one

AR – Alternative Reality
A live view, whether direct or indirect, of a real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer generated sensory output. AR uses your existing reality and adds to it by using a device such as a phone

One of the most popular books from this list, Ready Player One has been made into a movie that helped XR technologies to go mainstream. XR has huge potential to transform the everything from science to psychology to art to digital literature and beyond. I recently purchased my own VR headset and have been escaping into incredible fictional worlds! But did you know that the first evidence of XR technology dates back to the 1800s?

A Brief History of XR Technology

History of VR - Timeline of Events and Tech Development
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  • The history of XR starts back in the 1800s. Scientist, Sir Charles Wheatstone outlined a new concept called “stereopsis” in which the brain combines one image from each eye into a single 3D image. This led to the first stereoscopes, a device that took a pair of images and turned them into a 3D image with the illusion of depth.
  • In the early 1900s,  American Science Fiction writer, Stanley G. Weinbaum published the book Pygmalion’s Spectacles in which the main character explores a fictional world using a pair of goggles, making this the first prediction of VR as we know it today.
  • The first AR headset was created in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland called the Sword of Damocles that displayed computer-generated graphics that enhanced the user’s perception of the world.
  • From the 1980s to 2000s, VPL Research Inc became the first company to sell VR goggles and gloves. Their founder, Jaron Lanier, coined the term “virtual reality” in 1987.
  • In 2010, Palmer Luckey created the prototype for the Oculus Rift headset at the age of 18. By 2014, Facebook had acquired the Oculus VR company.
  • 2014 became a busy year for XR, with Sony and Samsung both announcing the creation of their own VR headsets, and Google releasing its low-cost cardboard viewer for smartphone users. In addition to this, Google released Google Glass, an AR device.
  • In 2016, Microsoft released HoloLens headsets, which made AR more interactive. AR was brought into the mainstream media by the release of Pokémon GO.
  • In 2017, a lot of retailers began using AR technologies to help customers imagine products in their homes using apps like IKEA Place.
  • As of 2020, about 30% of gamers own a VR headset.

For more on the history, visit this website: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2021/05/17/the-fascinating-history-and-evolution-of-extended-reality-xr–covering-ar-vr-and-mr/

5 Books to Immerse Yourself in Extended Reality and Beyond

The Six by Mark Alpert

Topics: VR, Nanotechnology, AI, Uploading the human conscious to a machine

This YA Sci-Fi novel takes a look at how technology could be implemented for both medical and military purposes. The main character, Adam Armstrong suffers from muscular dystrophy and has lost motor control of everything but his head, neck, and right arm. He’s passionate about VR technology and codes his own programs. VR games are his only escape from his wheelchair, as he no longer attends high school due to his high intelligence levels.

One day while he is testing out one of his VR programs, he gets a visit from a hacker, who he later finds out is an artificial intelligence named Sigma, created by his dad in the laboratory. Sigma threatens to kill Adam, and soon he is taken from his home in New York to a remote settlement in Chicago. There, he learns of a government program called the Pioneer Project, which they hope will be able to take down this murderous AI, that is now taking over various military bases and satellites and threatening to kill large amounts of the human population in order to gain full control.

Adam soon joins the Pioneer Program along with 5 other teens who have less than 6 months to live to have their minds transferred into weaponized robots through the use of nanotechnology. The Six teens must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for combat… before Sigma destroys humanity.

Unplugged by Donna Freitas

Topics: Virtual Reality, Dystopia

This YA Sci-Fi novel dives right into VR with its main concept being “imagine if people lived their entire lives in VR.” The main character, Skye is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in the Virtual “App World.” She was plugged into this reality when she was just 5 years old, as her mother and older sister wanted to give her a better life. In the App World, people go about day-to-day life as if they were living in reality, with some interesting upgrades to life. With the addition of apps that one could download into the very code of their existence, people have the ability to change their appearance, play highly immersive games, and even converse with others by merely thinking in their direction.

Skye, having been transferred in at the young age of 5, was given a foster family of others who were uploaded. Because of her lack of family, though, she is considered a “single,” aka someone who was uploaded without their real-life family. Despite not being with her family, she is looking forward to being “unplugged” at the age of seventeen, as is tradition with all “singles,” so they can see their families.

Skye knows nothing about her family as there is no communication allowed with the outside once someone is plugged in. What she does know, however, is that her mother and sister are likely “Keepers,” those who exist outside of the App World and are responsible for taking care of the bodies of those who are plugged in. Just as she is approaching her seventeenth birthday, however, the government of the App World mysteriously makes an announcement closing off the ability to be unplugged… forever. Skye is now desperate to find a way to visit her mother and sister, and in doing so, unveils a much darker plot at hand.

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando

Topics: AI, Suspense

This YA novel focuses solely on the potential threats that self-thinking AI could pose to the future of humanity. Four teens with nothing in common all receive the same message at the end of the school day: Report to the music room directly after school. The matter is urgent. When they arrive, no one is in the room except for them, and a small black cube. The device suddenly lights up and gives them instructions. Do not tell anyone about the device. Do not leave the device unattended. Take me with you… Or else.

The reader is then launched into a thrilling mystery told through a POV that shifts between the four students Eden, Marwan, Eli, and Ilanka. Each student has their own compelling life story that adds to the thrills of the narrative. Eden has a crush that doesn’t like her back and a mother with secrets. Marwan is determined to pursue soccer, but his traditional father wants him to take over the family restaurant. Eli is frequently in trouble and has a grandfather who is on his deathbed. Ilanka lives a lavishly rich life but soon discovers that her father may be hiding something.

The teens’ lives soon become more intertwined than they would have ever imagined, and soon the device becomes hostile, not just towards them, but to the people around them. Who or what created the device? Where did it come from? What is its purpose? With its ability to listen in on their every conversation, sabotage their texts, and control any manner of electronics, the teens realize that they must play along to not suffer any consequences. The device wants one thing: to belong. The teens must figure out how to meet the devices’ wishes before things are too late.

Warcross by Marie Lu

Topics: VR

This YA Sci-Fi novel shows what life might be like if people could escape their reality for a little while in a fully immersive VR game. For the millions who log into Warcross every day, however, it becomes more than a game, it becomes a way of life. The main character, Emika Chen, is a teenage hacker working as a bounty hunter to track down players who bet on the game illegally. With the competitive bounty hunting profession not making her enough money, she makes a desperate attempt and hacks into the opening game of the International Warcross Championships.

The risky move leaves her feeling like she will be arrested. Instead, she gets a call from the mysterious Hideo Tanaka, the young billionaire creator of the game. Just to her luck, he needs someone to spy on the tournament due to a security issue that had gone unresolved.

One minute she thinks she’ll be arrested, the next she’s being whisked off to Tokyo and tossed directly into the game and a world of fame she’s never known before. After a bit of investigating, however, she begins to uncover a sinister plot that if true, would have serious complications for the entirety of Warcross. Is she right in her suspicions, and is she willing to risk everything to prove herself correct?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Topics: VR, Action

This Sci-Fi novel immerses the reader into a world where there’s a fusion of 80s pop culture and a heavy presence of the impact of VR on humanity. The OASIS is a digital utopia that everyone escapes to, including our protagonist, Wade Watts. He doesn’t just escape to the OASIS but even goes to school there. One day, something happens out of the blue. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday dies. As he has no relatives, he instead leaves behind a mysterious video message that initiates the hunt for an egg that once found, will transfer all of his life savings and the ownership of OASIS to the winner.

Wade had already dedicated his life to studying Halliday, his role model, and feels that he could gain a place among the top “Gunters” (Egg Hunters). He watches endless videos and studies Halliday’s archives until one day he happens to stumble across the first clue. Soon, he is being tracked down by the IOI (Innovative Online Industries) who seek to gain ownership of the OASIS for profit, something that Halliday never did.

Wade soon learns that plenty of people are willing to kill for clues, as the ultimate prize would secure the winner’s life forever, both in and out of the OASIS. Before he knows it, he is swept into a mad race, and if he is to survive, he has to win.

Ayiana Crabtree
Ayiana Crabtree

Karp Library Fellow, XR Research

A New Way to Make AR/VR Glasses

Person using equipment to work with AR/VR lenses.
A metaform is a new optical component that Rochester researchers say can combine with freeform optics to create the next generation of AR/VR headsets and eyewear. (University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

University of Rochester researchers combine freeform optics and a metasurface to avoid ‘bug eyes’

“Image” is everything in the $20 billion market for AR/VR glasses. Consumers are looking for glasses that are compact and easy to wear, delivering high-quality imagery with socially acceptable optics that don’t look like “bug eyes.”

University of Rochester researchers at the Institute of Optics have come up with a novel technology to deliver those attributes with maximum effect. In a paper in Science Advances, they describe imprinting freeform optics with a nanophotonic optical element called “a metasurface.”

The metasurface is a veritable forest of tiny, silver, nanoscale structures on a thin metallic film that conforms, in this advance, to the freeform shape of the optics—realizing a new optical component the researchers call a metaform.

Read the full article from the University of Rochester’s Newscenter.

The Humanities & XR: The Past, Present, and Future

person wearing a vr headset and painting.

By Ayiana Crabtree
Karp Library Fellow, XR Research
February 2021 – present
Area of Focus: Conducting research to find ways humanities disciplines can benefit from XR technologies and developing future programming for Studio X that will engage humanities faculty and students


Although many humanists have embraced technologies in their research, immersive technologies are largely new territory for humanities and humanistic social sciences faculty and students. The technology is expensive, has a steep learning curve, and often comes off as a novelty rather than a viable research tool. However, as we progress into the future, it is important to recognize the benefits that immersive technologies could offer these disciplines.

Extended Reality, also known as XR, is the term that encompasses virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies.

With a VR headset, a user is immersed in a computer-simulated environment in which they can experience realistic sounds, images, and 3D content.

AR is an overlay of computer-generated images on the real world. AR uses our existing reality as the basis of the experience, and with the help of a device, this creates an interactive experience for users.

Mixed reality icon

MR, sometimes referred to as a hybrid reality, is when there is a merging of the real and virtual worlds. The important distinction between AR and MR is that with MR the virtual and real worlds are able to interact in real time.

These technologies have the potential to create new experiences for the humanities and humanistic social sciences teaching, research, and learning communities. From getting an immersive language learning experience through VR tours of countries, to creating new interactive works of art, to exploring the worlds found in the pages of classic novels, the possibilities are endless!

Below are just a few examples of the many ways XR is used across these disciplines:

Archaeology, Anthropology, History

Joshi, Naveen. “VR is assisting historians and archaeologists. Here’s how.” Allerin, 5 Nov. 2020, www.allerin.com/blog/vr-is-assisting-historians-and-archaeologists-heres-how.

Allerin’s article shows how photogrammetry—the process of digitally overlapping photographs to turn them into 3D models—can be used to enhance research in the archaeological field by applying it to VR technology. From allowing recreations of archaeological sites and providing access to constricted areas to helping increase skillsets to educating archaeologists, we’re already seeing the benefits of VR to the archaeological field. These applications can allow archeologist to analyze and research more conveniently while giving greater detail than simple photographs of a site. Technology like this could be extremely beneficial and could encourage new people to join the field because of the accessibility it provides.

Art

“Creating Art in Virtual Reality.” VIAR 360, www.viar360.com/creating-art-in-virtual-reality/.

VIAR 360’s article provides a new take on ways art can be created and performed by using the VR space as a new medium for work. It answers important questions about how VR experiences are produced, why they could be beneficial to the field, and provides examples of ways people can use VR applications in practice. The question of whether or not VR could be the future of art is raised. Not only is it the future, but it is already here.

Using VR to create art gives artists more freedom in their designs while having ease of access. By slipping into the VR world, anything can be created in a three-dimensional space, allowing artists a new medium to think and create in. This could allow sculptors to visualize projects and can give painters the opportunity to create 3D paintings. These pre-project visualizations can help by allowing artists to test out new ideas before attempting them with materials. It also provides opportunities for them to expand and try new ways of conveying messages in their artwork. One popular application that would allow them to do this is Tilt Brush, a popular, open-source 3D painting platform. The possibilities are endless when it comes to all the different opportunities for new works that could be created in the VR medium.

Cultural Heritage, Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Teaching & Learning

Shedd, Karin. “Students ‘visit’ a lost archaeological treasure via virtual reality.” YaleNews, 25 Sept. 2017, news.yale.edu/2017/09/25/students-visit-lost-archaeological-treasure-virtual-reality.

YaleNews highlights the importance of VR in modeling cultural heritage sites for the purposes of student learning. Not only does this allow students to experience the site without needing to travel across the world, but it also allows them to visit a place that might not exist anymore. The students visited the ancient city of Nimrud, 30 kilometers south of Mosul in Iraq. Through immersive technologies, people are able to preserve heritage sites for future generations to experience, something that is important in the preservation of culture, especially in learning and understanding it. Visiting the sight in VR allows one to get a sense of the grandness of the space you are visiting, something that reading a book can’t do for you. This enhances the experience by allowing students to grasp how important these structures were, which could be relevant in their research.

While there was some initial skepticism about using VR, the benefits ended up outweighing the negatives. There is no comparison between visiting a site in person versus visiting it in VR, but for the purposes of the classroom, VR provides real opportunities for access in allowing instructors to showcase important sites to their students. Another benefit and future application could be to recreate places that have been destroyed, granting access to sites that no one has seen for decades or centuries. 

Film

“How the movie industry uses virtual reality.” VR Sync, 2 Jan. 2020, vr-sync.com/how-the-movie-industry-uses-virtual-reality/.

From “Ready Player One” and the “Martian” to “The Lion King” and “Mission Impossible,” VR Sync’s article takes a close look into how VR can be used in the movie making process. Virtual cameras, application in animation, marketing and promotion, 360 movies, and VR movies are all different ways that the film industry uses VR to aid in their processes. Through the current use of VR in such a wide range of categories, it is evident that this technology is key to the future of the film industry. Seeing the technology develop from something in movies to something used to make movies is a fascinating growth and sets the stage for all kinds of use in the future.

History & Teaching & Learning

Yildirim, Gurkan, et al. “Analysis of Use of Virtual Reality Technologies in History Education: A Case Study.” Asian Journal of Education and Training, vol. 4, no. 2, 15 Feb. 2018, pp. 62-69, doi:10.20448/journal.522.2018.42.62.69. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1170733.pdf.

This case study looks at how VR can be used in the classroom to teach history classes. They found that students enjoyed the feeling of being present in the environment and being able to access destinations that are difficult to visit in real life. Going more in depth, the responses from each student seemed to be quite similar: they likened it to living in the places and enjoyed the more interactive aspects. VR experiences allowed students to focus on a particular topic and to not be easily distracted. One participant noted a downside: the long-term use of the headset and virtual experience caused eye strain.

As a whole, it is important to realize that while this may be the direction technology is heading, there is still some value to traditional teaching methods. The virtual reality classroom might not be good for an entire lecture, as it is important to see the instructor and interact in person, but is good for brief exercises and visiting foreign sights that wouldn’t be readily accessible in a classroom setting.

Language & Culture, Teaching & Learning

Wesley, Steven. “Learn a Language in Realistic VR Scenarios with these Apps.” VirtualSpeech, 28 Feb. 2018, virtualspeech.com/blog/learn-language-vr-scenarios-apps.

Virtual Speech’s article explains the benefits of learning a language in the VR environment. Not only does this allow for an immersive setting that forces the participants to adapt to the learning experience, but it also provides the same comfort of learning at their own pace. This style of learning is likened to the immersive experience of visiting a foreign country and trying to learn there. The article provides some examples of language learning apps as well as detailed descriptions of what learners will gain.

Learning a language in an immersive environment without needing to go abroad could be revolutionary for a college learning environment. VR can allow a student to challenge themselves without putting them out of their comfort zones. Sometimes being outside of your comfort zone can be beneficial, but for those with anxiety, this technology can help prepare them for the real situation, which leads to a better learning experience overall.

Literature

Breeze, Mez. “Virtual Reality Literature: Examples and Potentials.” The Writing Platform, 20 July 2018, thewritingplatform.com/2018/07/virtual-reality-literature-examples-potentials/.

The Writing Platform gives a look into the world of literature and how VR can be used to enhance a reader’s experience. Digital literature has existed for a while but moving it into the XR fields is a newer development. Not only does this new medium allow for a more interactive experience, but it can also give people a different outlook on the importance of storytelling and how it impacts them. Reading can give people a certain level of immersion depending on the imagination they have, but by adding VR into the literary experience, the immersion into the world becomes even more intense, allowing for a new reading experience. Being able to step into the pages of one’s favorite book would not only allow readers to become more connected with the literature but also provide a new experience in terms of how they view the literature and potentially its meaning.

The potential of VR and literature have no bounds, though it is important to draw a line between digital literature and VR movies and games. There should be some interactive element as well but not enough to make it into a videogame, as digital literature should focus on the storytelling primarily. Another interesting application of VR and literature would be to create a 3D space that represents the world of an already existing novel. Classic literature could be explored in new depths using VR, and the potential is never-ending. One example of digital literature mentioned is “A Place Called Ormalcy.” It was entirely designed for and developed in VR constructed using MasterpieceVR to create each chapter.

Psychology

Martin, Sam. “Virtual Reality Might Be the Next Big Thing for Mental Health.” Scientific American, 24 June 2019, blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/virtual-reality-might-be-the-next-big-thing-for-mental-health/.

The Scientific American dives right into the benefits of using VR  to give insight into the working of human brains. Mental health has always been a predominant issue in society, and VR technology could help remedy mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other things like fears. From applications in therapy to diagnosing symptoms, VR  could be a great help to psychologists and other mental health professionals. VR  has already proved successful in treating PTSD, and work is being done to see if it can be used for other issues such as addiction, claustrophobia, and teenage depression through exposure therapy. VR applications for diagnosis can test people for schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism.

The opportunities that VR provide for diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders is something that will definitely be expanded upon in the future. The importance that this application holds is vital, as it could help people who don’t feel comfortable going to talk to a real person about their issues, as well as catching an underlying problem that might have gone undetected. While this technology still needs more experimentation, it is still a step in the right direction for creating new ways to help people with mental health issues.

Social Justice & Film

Warren, Matt. “Balancing Social Justice and Immersive Entertainment.” Film Independent, 29 Oct. 2019, www.filmindependent.org/blog/balancing-social-justice-and-immersive-entertainment/.

This article by Film Independent talks about the importance of representing social justice in the immersive entertainment industry. Representation in the media is extremely important, so when a new form of media arises, the need for representation expands to this new platform. XR technology provides many different new ways of communicating concepts and ideas to a wide variety of audiences and ensuring some presence of representation for social justice is crucial. From art to movies to video games, there are many different ways that XR  is used to communicate with the world, so using this as a platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, BLM, and other social conscious ideas is a no brainer. The article includes a recorded talk by several exciting immersive storytellers as well as giving examples of projects that are already out there for people to experience. One story is Shogaolu’s Another Dream. It is the third installment of her Queer in a Time of Forced Migration multi-media series, which takes a look at the stories of politically displaced LGBTQ+ people. The potential for the advocation for social justice will grow with the VR platform, and it should not be ignored.

Tourism

“VR for Tourism.” Immersion VR, immersionvr.co.uk/about-360vr/vr-for-tourism/.

Immersion VR’s article speaks about how the tourism industry is being revolutionized by the VR medium. From the wide scale of flyover tours to the detail of visiting ancient sites, the possibilities that are achievable with VR technology are endless. Rather than simply using computer-generated images, 360 VR tourism is becoming more and more popular as it uses actual images from the sites, providing a more realistic experience. Another application besides interactive tourism entails 360 VR videos in which you can sit and look around while not needing to control anything.

The future of VR travel is growing rapidly, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the amount of resources available are on the rise. Some even go as far as to have VR flight experiences to pretend they are traveling from destination to destination. Other applications include VR booking interfaces, travel for senior citizens, and landmark destination experiences.

Dream University Challenge 2021

Promotional graphic for the Dream University Challenge. There is an illustration of a person reclining on a half moon and looking into the sky at the top. The person is wearing headphones, and there is a sketch of Rush Rhees Library in the background. On the bottom are the Studio X, River Campus Libraries, and iZone wordmarks. Underneath the illustration is the text, "Dream University Challenge. Submit your space for a chance to win a prize."
Promotional graphic for the Dream University Challenge. There is an illustration of a person reclining on a half moon and looking into the sky at the top. The person is wearing headphones, and there is a sketch of Rush Rhees Library in the background. On the bottom are the Studio X, River Campus Libraries, and iZone wordmarks. Underneath the illustration is the text, "Dream University Challenge. Submit your space for a chance to win a prize."

This past summer, due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, a UR student inquired about virtual meeting spaces to foster community in lieu of our physical library spaces. We all miss the pre-pandemic opportunities to meet up and chat. The serendipitous catch-up on campus after class or in between meetings isn’t really possible these days and poses a considerable problem for community building.

This student’s inquiry inspired iZone and Studio X team members, including the Karp Library Fellows, to develop the Dream University Challenge, in which participants imagined, designed, and built virtual university spaces that provided these opportunities to connect. During the 2021 winter break, iZone and Studio X staff led student participants through design thinking and technical workshops. They then worked in teams using Mozilla Hubs, a free and open-source virtual reality platform, to create their own unique campus spaces.

Studio X and iZone staff members served as mentors during office hours and provided both conceptual and technical feedback throughout the week-long building phase. Two teams of four submitted links to their final projects and abstracts that described their concept and acknowledged sources.

The Submissions

Dream Rush Rhees
Siladitya Khan, Carolina Lion He, Sydney Santiago, Debamitra Chakraborty
UR Haven
Miguel Yakouma, Koshala Mathuranayagam, Joey Chan, & Sophea Urbi Biswas

Explore in VR

Share a virtual room with friends in your browser! Both submissions embody UR pride, consider facilitating connections thoughtfully, and inspire new ideas about space and community. Click on the buttons below to visit these spaces.

New to Mozilla Hubs? Check out this tutorial.

The Winners!

The public submitted over 200 votes and awarded the following:

Most Creative Concept

UR Haven

Most Desirable Campus Space

Tie! UR Haven & Dream Rush Rhees

Most Out of the Box

UR Haven

Most Likely to Facilitate Connections

Dream Rush Rhees

The judges awarded Best Overall Winner to…

UR Haven!

We would like to thank our amazing judges:

  • Wendi Heinzelman, Dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Julia Maddox, Director of the Barbara J. Burger iZone, River Campus Libraries
  • Nefle Nesli Oruç ’22, Public Programs Coordinator, Karp Library Fellow
  • Joe Testani, Assistant Dean & Executive Director of the Greene Center for Career Education & Connections

The UR Haven team will receive UR-branded Google Cardboards and a cash prize of $100 for each team member.

At the celebration event, the winners were announced, and students discussed their experiences during the challenge and what they learned. Students expressed enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary collaboration and getting to know others outside of their usual friend groups. They also felt that, regardless of their technical level, they all had something to contribute. One international student appreciated the opportunity to stay connected to campus and the community. Another student noted that the structure of the challenge helped her to maintain a learning mindset during the long break. Others described learning how to consider user needs and how to collaborate in teams:

The challenge taught me that teamwork is all about clear communication, understanding how to think from other people’s perspectives, and respecting each other’s ideas and viewpoints.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! We are grateful for the support from the River Campus Libraries and the Hajim School of Engineering.

Thank you especially to those who made this event so successful!

  • Mary Ann Mavrinac, Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries
  • Matt Cook, Senior Communications Officer, RCL
  • Claudia Pietrzak, Student Programming & Social Media Manager, RCL
  • Sarah Gerin, iZone Community Manager, RCL
  • Zoe Wisbey, iZone Program Initiatives Manager, RCL

Organizing Committee:

  • Mike Arinarkin, Design Thinking Fellow (iZone)
  • Denis Cengriz, Online Instruction Lead, Karp Library Fellow (iZone)
  • Nadine Eldallal, Social Media Fellow (iZone)
  • Muhammed El-Sayed, Immersive Technologies Developer, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Sebastian Jakymiw, Immersive Technologies Developer, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Meaghan Moody, Immersive Technologies Librarian
  • Nefle Nesli Oruç, Public Programs Coordinator, Karp Library Fellow (Studio X)
  • Robert Petrosyan, Online Experience Designer, Karp Library Fellow (iZone)
  • Emily Sherwood, Director of Digital Scholarship

Want to learn more about this event? Visit the Dream University Challenge page for full details, including our recorded design thinking and technical workshops!

Teaching Blender

Emma Schaale, Karp Library Fellow

Karp Library Fellows Experiences with Studio X

Emma Schaale, Karp Library Fellow

By Emma Schaale
Karp Library Fellow, Public Programs Coordinator for Studio X
June 2020 – October 2020
Area of Focus: Varies between considering branding for Studio X, creating promotional materials, and conceptualizing workshop for Studio X’s fall programming

For the past month, I’ve been working on an exciting project… a Blender workshop for Studio X, which took place on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020! This came about as a collaborative effort between Studio X and Tinkerspace to create introductory programming on immersive technologies for the UR community.

We first prioritized workshops for Unity, a video game development environment, due to faculty and student interest in this platform. This was not my area of expertise, as I primarily work in Unreal Engine 4, a similar but different development tool. Luckily, Sebastian Jakymiw, the Karp Library Fellow Immersive Technologies Developer for Studio X, has worked extensively with Unity and was able to take on the lead instruction for those workshops. However, I participated in the conversations between him; Meaghan Moody, Studio X’s Immersive Technologies Librarian; and Allegra Tennis, STEM Librarian.

Because students and faculty are also interested in 3D content creation, Meaghan and I started brainstorming a workshop focused on 3D modeling. Having completed recent coursework (CSC131: Recreational Graphics) for 3D modeling as well as having created my own personal gaming projects, I felt comfortable teaching a workshop on Blender, which is a popular, free, and open-source 3D creation software.

One of the most important considerations we had in our conversations is how to brand our programming. This is crucial for building an image and personality for Studio X, so that a community can form around it as well as pique students’ interest. We wanted these workshops to grab students’ attention and spark their creativity. Immersive technologies are still very new and might seem complicated to students. For example, if you’ve never heard of Blender before, an “Intro to Blender” workshop may seem irrelevant or uninteresting to you. While a “Create a 3D Animal with Blender” workshop might just catch your eye.

To prepare for this workshop, my first step was to scout YouTube for existing 3D modeling tutorials. Some of my favorites are by Grant Abbitt, who has hundreds of tutorials and workshops posted to his channel. I was inspired, in particular, by this video on creating low-poly animals and decided to use to use this as the basis for the workshop.

While working on the outline for my workshop, I considered how to make the process more interactive. During a YouTube video, the user can pause or speed up the instruction, but for a live session, I would need to ensure that my students have time to see everything on the screen. For new users, Blender’s user interface can be especially overwhelming–especially when you’re learning it virtually!

This was also mentioned during a practice workshop, which I ran for Meaghan, Allegra, and Sebastian. Allegra advised that I should take more time to make sure attendees can follow my cursor on the screen. I related to this frustration based on my own experiences learning new technologies in the classroom, so it was intuitive to incorporate this.

screenshot of Blender interface with a 3D modeled cat from the workshop test run.
Screenshot from the Blender practice workshop

During this practice run, it was great to hear that my trial participants found my tutorial to be a great introduction. It’s a difficult software to teach to first-time users, but I was satisfied to hear that they had a fun time learning.

During the actual workshop, I had quite a fun experience introducing the class to Blender’s user interface. Before diving in though, I described how this platform is used for all kinds of projects such as animated films, video games, and virtual reality experiences. I also broke down some basic terminology and concepts. For example, I explained that a mesh is composed of vertices, edges, and faces.

I also explained that Blender’s user interface can seem even more intimidating than the user interface of software like Adobe Premiere Pro or Photoshop. I demonstrated how to perform basics edits in Object and Edit Mode, how to trace along a reference image using extrusions and edits in Edit Mode, how to apply color to the model, and finally, how to export the model.

screenshot of my desktop from the workshop. On the left, Blender is open, and the author is editing a model. On the right, are attendees Zoom windows.
Screenshot from the official workshop on August 23, 2020

Perhaps the most important advice I received was from Allegra, who suggested I really slow down my instruction. At times, I felt like I was waiting hours in between steps while hovering my mouse over a button or demonstrating keyboard shortcuts. Yet, a couple of times, students asked me to repeat these actions. I learned that going slowly is crucial while teaching a complex software like Blender, especially in a virtual teaching environment.

My previous experiences teaching at an all girl’s tech camp in 2018 and as a Publicity Manager for the UR Game Dev Club have made me a much more comfortable instructor. Certainly, having these experiences made me more understanding of the ways others learn and how to make it a comfortable learning environment. While I would say my Blender workshop went well, I’ve had many failures in the past that I have had to learn from. I was even comfortable joking around, which would have been unimaginable a couple of years ago!

Overall, I enjoyed myself during this entire process. I love teaching things I care about, and building this workshop from the ground up was a wonderful experience. I was supported by Studio X, Meaghan, and Allegra, who made me feel more comfortable and confident teaching to my peers. So thank you to Studio X for making this possible!

Are you interested in learning Blender? Check out my workshop slides! Stay tuned for more workshops, and here are some of my favorite resources in the meantime: