12 March 2001, page 15
(reprinted by permission)

Take a supercomputer and 48 kids and ...

Wendy Levy
Virtual virtuosity

     Question: What's red, white and purple and runs on lightning?
     Answer: The virtual flying car I made last week at kSpace, an interactive multimedia area for children at the new National Museum.
     The kSpace area is a collaborative effort by the Museum and the Australian National University's Supercomputer Facility.
     In about 15 fun-packed minutes you can create a virtual car or building in glorious colours, then don 3D goggles to see your creation come to life on the big screen in an animated city of the future.
     Your photograph is taken on arrival by digicam, joining other images floating around a screen in the waiting area.
     The picture may also by used in the 3D virtual city, so don't be surprised to find your face staring out from the side of a building or on a poster advertising "K cola".
     kSpace is an exciting area, full of colour, sound and movement and inspired by the museum's theme of imagining the future.
     Children from six to 14 are targeted and encouraged to imagine Australian cities of the future, a theme that ties in with primary-school curriculums.
     The area builds on work by ANU researchers over the last few years for the Powerhouse Museum and CSIRO's Discovery Centre.
     Museum director Dawn Casey saw some of the work and approached the ANU to see if they could work together on a project for the new museum.
     Museum curator and team leader Johanna Parker and the ANU's Drew Whitehouse, Darran Edmundson and artist Stephen Duke spent six months nutting out the project, then another seven months bringing it to life, Stuart Ramsden and Ajay Limaye joining the team as time went on.
     The facility acts as a springboard for the kids' imagination, Whitehouse said: "They have to think - why was there a windmill in the city of the future?"
     Commercial 3D software systems, the Mirai and Houdini packages, were used to model and animate the city's components.
     The components were then imported into custom software, kSpaceDesign and kSpaceEngine, to run the touch screen and the theatre's computers.

The National Museum of Australia's kSpace lead designer, Drew Whitehouse, and a crazy creation. (Picture: Kym Smith.)
     The software generates computer graphics for the journey to the city of the future in real time, which ensures that only new images are used in the show.
     Music in the virtual reality theatre is by former Canberra musicians B(if)tek.
     Animation features such characters as Robo Roo, Smithy the Flying Wombat, a spinning clothes line and the wildflowers of every state.
     kSpace was a good counter-balance to other exhibits in which traditional storytelling methods were used, Parker said.
     It could take up to 48 kids at one time, 24 kids paired on 12 touch-screens and another 24 goggling at their handiwork in the virtual reality theatre.
     "We tested it on schoolkids last week and they loved it," Parker said.
     "In the virtual-reality theatre, the kids were standing up on the rails and screaming 'that's my car' as it flew out of the screen."
     "Their teacher said, 'Congratulations, you've motivated the unmotivateable."
     Get down there for a look before the paint dries and you you too can make a lightning-powered red, white and purple flying car.