Topics: College of Fine Arts, Emerging Media

March 20, 2008

Ball State showcases its new technology during a news conference held in Second Life on March 20.

Ball State University's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation (IDIAA) is duplicating its real-world success in another life - Second Life, that is.

Educators increasingly are exploring Second Life, an Internet-based virtual world, as a viable learning environment. The IDIAA already has received national honors in the real world for its work in emerging media through developing virtual applications. The institute's professors and students gained acclaim for years of accomplishments in emerging media art forms, so it made sense to extend these efforts into Second Life, explained John Fillwalk, IDIAA director and associate professor of electronic art.

The IDIAA's initial offering is the "The Aesthetic Camera," a digital cinematography program created through support from Ball State's College of Fine ArtsOffice of Information Technology and the Office of the Provost. The digital arts program focuses on virtual filmmaking, or "machinima," as it's known in Second Life. Students can check out cameras, dollies, light systems and more to create their own original movies. They can also film in a Star Trek-inspired holodeck, which allows them to select between a wide variety of virtual set locations.

"All of the equipment has been virtualized and scripted," Fillwalk said. "This means that the equipment has similar features of its real-world counterparts; all of the virtual equipment is controlled by a single HUD (heads-up-display) for consistency and ease of use.

"Students will be able to learn concepts such as three-point lighting and then immediately apply the concept in a virtual hands-on mode to what they've learned on their sets."

National recognition
The newly launched initiative recently earned Blackboard Inc.'s inaugural Greenhouse Grant for Virtual Worlds for its work combining the interactive technology of Second Life and Blackboard, which produces Web-based, course management software. The award cited the innovative combination, which allows Ball State to extend virtualized studio and laboratory experiences to an online distance education audience.

"Blackboard gave out only one award this year, and it was to us - that's quite an honor, and I'm humbled to see our work have such wide impact," Fillwalk said. "We're truly leveraging Ball State's success in emerging media and furthering our real-life reputation of innovative media art and design to the virtual environs of Second Life."

Navigating the virtual world
In developing the project, Ball State gained (Second) worldly knowledge on how to operate a virtual business. For example, how do you buy an island? How do you get a state university to pay invoices in lindens (the official Second Life currency)? Upon converting lindens to U.S. currency, many sales bring in only a nickel or dime. How do you account for all of these transactions?

Through creating the digital film project, Ball State now has a business model to work in Second Life, said Dan Lutz, project coordinator and associate director of Ball State's Teleplex.

"We really have a strong sense now of how to navigate the virtual economy," he said. "The leaps we've made in instructional design are mind-boggling. We have real expertise in coding and modeling that we could offer, in a consulting role, to other colleges and universities looking to establish a presence in Second Life."

To learn more about Ball State's foray into Second Life, contact Fillwalk or Lutz through IDIAA at 765-285-0132.