Emily Carr launches social and interactive media center

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is establishing a research center for Internet-based media with its $2.3 million funding grant from the federal governtment’s College Community Innovation Program.

At the new Social and Interactive Media Centre, faculty, students and industry partners will conduct applied research, says Dr. Rob Inkster, director of research and industry liaison at the Vancouver-based university devoted to visual and media arts and design.

‘The center will allow artists and companies to explore Internet-based communication and new applications for this technology,’ explains Inkster.

The university polled the Vancouver industry to find the key areas of research interest, before deciding on the focus for the CCI grant. As a result, projects will concentrate on mobile platforms, gaming, developing local, geographically specific stories utilizing GPS-enabled mobile phones, and content involving stereoscopic 3D.

In addition to the CCI money, Emily Carr has found more than 10 industry partners who are pledging a total of $400,000 in cash and another $400,000 of in-kind services towards the various research projects undertaken at SIM. Partners range from Vancouver production companies (Paperny Films and Rainmaker) to clothing company Lululemon, which is supporting research into wearable product technology (electronics sewn into fabric).

Stereoscopic 3D entertainment is one key focus of the research.

‘It’s growing rapidly and there are great advances in technology,’ points out Inkster. ‘Every blockbuster animation coming out of Pixar or DreamWorks is shot in 3D now and live action is going that way, too. James Cameron’s Avatar is a big game changer in the stereoscopic 3D area.’

Research will look at how creators can use the latest in 3D technology to tell innovative stories and teach filmmakers and students how to use this technology most effectively.

‘When is there too much 3D? How do you create pleasant 3D backgrounds without dominating the story? These are some of the questions we will ask,’ explains Inkster.

California special effects company Kerner Optical is contributing hardware and expertise to this research effort.

‘Our filmmakers and post houses haven’t had that much experience with stereoscopic 3D, so we want to train them in this medium and do some applied research in that area,’ he adds. ‘We think we can help support the economic development in that sector.’

SIM will also look at ways that gaming engines can be used for other applications.

‘Gaming is a hugely important industry here and it’s going to get more sophisticated as time goes on,’ says Inkster. ‘Gaming engines are great at simulating action and response, so they have other uses, including in the healthcare field to train physicians.’

The university is partnering with Vancouver digital agency Work at Play on developing social media applications for the educational sector, with the aim of creating and selling this app to universities.

Getting information out to the B.C. industry and offering skills training is another component of the SIM program.

‘We want to let the local community know what kind of applied research is going on here that might be of interest or benefit to them,’ says Inkster. ‘And then make some of our advanced facilities here accessible to local companies who want to do work in stereoscopic 3D or motion capture or rapid prototyping.’

Funding will also assist with hiring students as interns and in co-op positions, relieving faculty so they can focus on research and equipment purchases.

Senior researcher Dr. Alexandra Samuel has been hired to oversee SIM.