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May 15, 2007

Interactive Showcase

Spotlight Shines On M.F.A. Thesis Projects

By James Tella

Torrent Raiders, Aaron Meyers' fully functioning Bit Torrent client that is also an arcade-style video game and dynamic network visualization of file sharing.
From a game that lets players build a world out of musical notes, to a sensor-suit fashioned out of 1860s woman’s skirt, to an electronic dance floor, the promise and variation of interactive design was on display at this year’s Interactive Media Division (IMD) thesis show, “Are You Here.”

Taking place from May 5 to 10 at the newly created thesis studio just north of the University Park Campus, the show featured 11 projects fresh from this year’s master of fine arts degree students.

“Every one of our students is pushing the envelope in one direction or another,” said IMD Research Associate Professor Michael Naimark.  “They’re not locked in the same steps of what came before them and the aesthetics are incredibly diverse.”   

For the students, the annual event, like its writing and production counterparts First Pitch and First Look, marks the first time their work has been showcased. The exposition provides an opportunity for guests from across the school and the university, as well as  potential employers, to view their creative efforts. Unlike the other showcases, however, “Are You Here” encourages everyone to participate in a hands-on environment.

The mystique and intrigue of the show enveloped guests from the minute they stepped foot from the
Sonanos invites its users to create and explore a world constructed from symphonic sounds.
bright daylight of 23rd Street into the vast chamber of the thesis lab. Wending through the space, the darkness was punctuated by rays of colored lights bouncing from an interactive dance floor that served as the interface for the Lambent Reactive game. Players jumped madly about the dance pad, which was composed of hundreds of three-inch squares resembling massive pixels. As one user stepped on the floor, the impact of his foot would make light pass along the grid toward his opponent, who had to step on it to stop it.

Accompanying the light show from this game and several others was a cacophony of sounds some recognizable, others not, that emanated from speakers strategically placed around the display areas.

As is the IMD tradition, this year’s student projects sought to go well beyond the confines of traditional interactive media, to challenge conventions while at the same time creating works that engage and attract a wide range of users.

Fitting In, an immersive experience that causes visitors to feel empathy with people from the past by wearing a restrictive historical outfit and experimenting with various physical activities.
Doo Yul Park took on convention with Sonanos, which invites its users to create and explore a world constructed from symphonic sounds that deepen the connection between graphics and music.

“I started programming so I could animate my love of music,” he said about his thesis project. “I want to use all the skills I have to make a great performance.”

Likewise, Aaron Meyers sought to make an extremely un-visual subject highly visible with Torrent Raiders, his fully functioning Bit Torrent client that is also an arcade-style video game and dynamic network visualization of file sharing.

“It’s intended to be faithful to what’s going on,” Meyers said as he described the process where players can act as a mercenary enforcer trying to bust people for illegally distributed copyrighted materials. “We’re complicit in the activities of what we’re fictionally punishing people for, and it’s a way of interacting with what’s really happening,” Meyers added.

Generating an immersive experience that causes visitors to
The interactive dance floor  served as the interface for the Lambent Reactive.
feel empathy with people from the past by wearing a restrictive historical outfit and experimenting with various physical activities was the object of Jessica Rosenblatt’s Fitting In.


“I would love to take this around as part of history lessons for schools or as a museum installation,” said Jessica Rosenblatt when asked how she’d like to see her project evolve. “You not only get the picture of what people wore, but you’ll also understand how it was really like to dress this way,” she added, as a male guest awkwardly attempted to move as gracefully as possible in huge hooped skirt fashioned in the mid-19th century style.