Shaun Foster, undergraduate program director of 3D Digital Design, developed dynamic educational content with funding from Epic Games, the world-leading video game company responsible for creating Fortnite and other popular titles. He received a $160,000 MegaGrant to produce edX courses that educate faculty, students and others on the multidisciplinary possibilities of Unreal Engine. The game engine holds advanced technologies of real-time graphics and interactive tools that are, Foster said, creating a “multi-field convergence.”
“It’s super exciting to do work that is going to help my students and colleagues,” Foster said. “I’m also hoping it will help increase the level of knowledge students have before they even come to RIT so they can go deeper and faster when they get here.”
Foster worked with teams of students and faculty from different disciplines on the project. The three courses Foster developed are offered in the RITx Unreal Engine Foundations Professional Certificate Program.
“It’s a good on-ramp for the multidisciplinary application of the core Unreal Engine software for people who are interested in things like interior design, industrial design and this emerging field called virtual production — which is mixing pre-visualization, filmmaking and visual effects all into one,” Foster said.
Supported by a $275,000 Epic Games MegaGrant co-written by David Long, MAGIC Center director, and Shaun Foster, program director of 3D Digital Design, RIT developed an inventive curriculum focused on an emerging filmmaking method. The multi-departmental project brought virtual production — a field blending filmmaking, computational photography and real-time game engine rendering to produce in-camera visual effects — directly to students and faculty. RIT is among only a few universities in the world working in virtual production, a technique seen in Disney's The Mandalorian and Marvel's Avengers films.
"Virtual production is the future of effects-heavy filmmaking and graphically engaging filmmaking, and we're teaching students at RIT how to do this," Long said. "When they graduate, they're going to be among a select few who know how to this stuff. They're going to be in immediate demand."
RIT has collaborated with THE THIRD FLOOR (TTF), an award-winning visualization studio, PRG, a global leader in entertainment and event tech solutions, and Optic Sky Productions, a local commercial and digital experience advertising company, on virtual production work. A project like a video for RIT’s Electric Vehicle Team has the appearance it was created inside a Hollywood film studio or a production stage in New York City. But it was produced in MAGIC Spell Studios' soundstage, equipped with massive LED wall displays and a conglomerate of professional artists and students from 3D digital design, film and animation, motion picture science and engineering working together to leverage the groundbreaking technology.
RIT is a fitting place for this innovative marriage of art and technology.
"The mix of artistic talent and our engineering talent we have here at RIT is the perfect mix and it's the reason why it's happening here," Long said.
Frameless Labs is a multidisciplinary group that brings attention to all research, innovation and artistic creation in extended reality (XR) — an umbrella term for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. By hosting an annual symposium and an online space for a community of XR makers at RIT to collaborate, the initiative supports the growth of existing ventures and the inspiration of new projects and technology. Frameless Labs, housed in RIT's MAGIC Center, also serves to connect RIT ideas to the greater outside community of VR and AR thought leaders.
“Frameless is an interdisciplinary endeavor. It’s important to bring everybody together,” said Susan Lakin, director of Frameless Labs and professor in RIT’s College of Art and Design. “Extended reality is an expanding field that is growing exponentially across all industries, so it is important for us to build a career pipeline to the immersive economy with curriculum development and new research in the XR field.”
Photo by Jaiden Tripi '23
Virtual Reality Arm
Students and faculty from the Medical Illustration BFA and MFA programs as well as the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences have created multiple iterations of an interactive arm. The VR experience features a fully functional human figure that could be used for a variety of applications in the future.