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Design: From Concept To Fruition

Pre-Planning

The kSpace concept was the result of a week of brain-storming sessions between VIZLAB members and curators from the National Museum of Australia. Financial issues aside, the design constraints were onerous:

  • incorporate an interactive VR experience
  • be entertaining, but with a theme and dignity befitting a museum environment
  • appeal to a wide age range, from children to young teens (ages 6-14)
  • handle throughput of up to 200 participants per hour
  • delivery within eight months (coinciding with the museum opening)

To guarantee throughput, we quickly settled on a 4-5 minute theatre show. Interactivity would take place outside the theatre in a design stage with children creating models of future vehicles and buildings for subsequent insertion into the customized 3D show. The original idea to place web cameras on top of each design station in order to capture the child's image was relegated to a single camera at the entrance. With the addition of a large screen display in the waiting area to view old models and snapped photos, we had a 3-stage pipeline of photo-capture, design stations, and 3D theatre.

Inspirational Source Material

Dinosaur Car, Age 9 Motel, Age 10 Ben's Home, Age 7 Vehicle, Age 7

With the theme decided, and ready to embark on developing the look and feel of kSpace, we asked children from Chisholm Primary School, Canberra (our thanks to teacher Robyn Withell), to draw pictures of their imagined future vehicles and homes.

The results were instructive, the candy-coloured images of organic forms - possibly short on obvious function but rich with individuality - seeding VIZLAB artist Stephen Duke's concept drawings from which computer modeling would follow.

image copyright,
National Museum of Australia, 2001.

Interactivity

Given that the interactive design stations had to work over such a wide range of ages - all in four minutes with no prior instruction, we opted for a constructor set approach with constraints to prevent "flawed" designs. Even with a limited set of pieces, choice of colour, patterns and location of components yields a staggering number of possibilities.

With a database of components, a grammar for specifying how pieces can attach to one another, and pSpace code to build actual models, we set about creating an intuitive user interface.

image copyright,
National Museum of Australia, 2001.

The final version that appears in kSpace is the result of a continuous feedback loop of testing and modification. Dozens of children were involved, the success of the interactive portion of kSpace a testament to their helpful advice.

The City

Using his concept art as a starting point, Steve spent several months laying out an entire future city, replete with transportation corridors, recreation areas, suburbs, schools, and areas zoned for manufacturing, agriculture and commerce. Even though the flythrough would only last a few minutes (and much of the model would be culled away during optimization), we felt it important to have an authentic framework in which to embed the creations of the children. kSpace might be candy-coloured, but there's every chance the citizens inhabit an enjoyable metropolis.

image copyright, National Museum of Australia, 2001.

With the city model complete and a basic trajectory mapped out by interactive navigation in the VIZLAB's virtual environment, Drew Whitehouse moved to 3D Studio Max for final animation, integration of the buildings and vehicles sent over by kSpaceDesign, and addition of the secondary animation that brings kSpace to life.

Photo-Station and Plasma Display

For the wide-screen flat display in the waiting area, Stuart Ramsden created a particle-based animation system with graphic elements culled from models created by past customers, futuristic diagrams, and photos from the nearby photo-capture station. Tuning the program to ensure that recent photos appear in the animation, we find that an otherwise unenjoyable waiting period becomes part of the show itself.

Integration and Control

In the final months, as all the above systems came online, Ajay Limaye set about writing kSpaceControl, the integration and control program that manages the photo-station, plasma display, interactive workstations and the theatre computer. kSpaceControl is a robust Python-based system that continues to handle upwards of 100 shows per day.