Digital Media Demo Day at Georgia Tech

I ventured to Atlanta again this year for Georgia Tech’s Digital Media department‘s Winter Demo Day, and it definitely re-greased the mental wheels. When you’re stuck while thinking about technology and media, an event like this is sure to shake things loose.

The Digital Media program at Georgia Tech spans the spectrum that runs from Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to film production. Students and faculty come from all points on the spectrum as well, thereby making the input and the output of the department is as diverse as its people. Their semiannual Demo Days allow them to strut their wares, from fully immersive digital environments and emergent games to interactive TV and experimental film, from completed works to projects-in progress. A loose theme this year could’ve been merging the virtual with the corporeal: There were lots of projects bridging bodies and avatars and several others exhibited new approaches to haptics. It’s very difficult to keep a summary about such an event brief, but here are a few highlights.

Kenny Chow’s Generative Visual Renku project uses Fox Harrell’s GRIOT System to create a digital environment for collaborative, linked-poetry using pictographs. Renku is similar to Haiku except that it is a form of linked poetry. Chow’s project allows groups of people connected via a network (e.g., the internet, an intranet, or a social space such as Facebook) to collaborate on pieces of artwork using icons. In the process, GRIOT and Chow’s Renku system create a visual grammar by which the artworks can be built and interpreted.

Over the past couple of years, Susan Robinson has been quietly remediating her Oscar-nominated film Building Bombs (which is now available on DVD) into an interactive piece, the engine behind which manages the relationships among the various personalities and issues in the film. By dragging pictures and icons around on the screen, the user can see how they react to each other and watch video clips from the film. It’s much more impressive and interesting than I can make it sound here.

Space Vectors by Ari Velazquez, Jimmy Truesdell, and Kurt Stilwell is a tabletop video game for up to four players. Each player has a base to protect and three types of space vessels — controlled by tangible objects placed on the tabletop — with which to protect it and attack the others. As it stands now, players set up initial conditions, press “start,” and watch the game unfold. Eventually, Ari says, the game will be very active over the course of play. The interesting thing about Space Vectors‘ current state is how complex the game play is given its relative simplicity. Set up a few pieces, let the game go, and watch to see if your strategy works.

Notably missing this year — or maybe I just notably missed them — were Brian Shrank and company and their Mashboard Games (one of my favorites from last year, which explores haptics by mining affordances from the standard QWERTY keyboard). Also M.I.A. were Ian Bogost and Eugene Thacker. Next time, guys…

The EGG's Mermaids: Click to enlargeOther highlights included Second Life/Augmented Reality (which involved combining physical actors with digital avatars), Mermaids (an MMOG that explores the emergent behavior of large groups), Flourishing Future (an interactive children’s tangible-object tabletop video game involving making a city more environmentally friendly), and Machinima Futurista (which uses the Second Life/Augmented Reality project to recreate the 1916 Italian Futurist film Vita Futurista), among many others.

If any of you get a chance to attend GA Tech’s Demo Day and see what they’re up to there, I strongly recommend doing so: good food, good people, and lots of great ideas. Many thanks to the presenters, and Susan Robinson, Jay Bolter, and Janet Murray for making us feel welcome and for making it another brain-sparking good time.