Guests from Ontario universities, local artistic practitioners and professionals in the multimedia industry came together on Nov. 7 and 8 for the inaugural “macGRID” conference and workshop.

Spearheaded by David Harris-Smith, Assistant Professor in Communication Studies and Multimedia, the conference was centered on the growth and development of the macGRID community: a simulation research network formed around high-performance virtual world software. The software, OpenSim, uses mixed reality and avatar technology to develop virtual connections between the university and practicing artists and professionals in the multimedia and motion graphics industry.

“The macGRID community has been designed to be redesigned,” explained Harris-Smith as he welcomed numerous representatives from the design industry to the first day of the conference.

“Our goal is to bring together researchers and practitioners through education, simulation, training and artistic expression to facilitate networking and collaborative research.”

The macGRID community was developed to link together the physical and virtual world in a mixed reality that would involve computational manipulation to create any desired output. The intended purpose of the system is to allow researchers and artists to continue their work in the virtual world when the physical world is unable to provide the desired resources. The grid would be able to bridge long-distance connections and overcome limitations of the physical body by providing virtual means for movement and action.

Key note speaker Alan Sondheim – author, teacher, cyberspace theorist, tornado chaser and self-professed “independent scholar” – braved Hurricane Sandy to leave his New York home and open the conference with a discussion on the object of “real.” He explained that although physical bodies can be binding, virtual reality systems allow for a branching away from physical limitations.

“Virtual worlds were God’s gift – that is, if there were a God, but there isn’t – to humanity,” he said in his talk. “You can have someone log in from China, Denmark, Africa … and have them join in, help us, work with us,” he explained as he discussed the endless possibilities of working through virtual realities.

Sondheim not only discussed the practical applications of the technology, but also the artistic. He showcased a series of videos he developed through the manipulation of motion graphic technology that was then electronically transferred and showcased through avatar characters and creations.

The conference continued on through the Thursday, featuring a series of guest research presenters discussing their plans and intentions for the macGRID community.

Professor Harris-Smith hopes to continue developing university-industry bonds through this endeavour and use virtual worlds and mixed reality as a platform for social and scientific experiment. The grid is growing and physical boundaries are gradually being lifted to include broader research options.


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