Exploring New Worlds at Ringling College

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Shanna De Iuliis (right) leads Ringling faculty and staff through a session with the Magic Leap One headset and controller. Photo by Rich Schineller.

On the campus of Ringling College of Art and Design, in the Goldstein Library, in a small room on the first floor, a portal to another world awaits. Multiple worlds, actually, as the college, through a partnership with Magic Leap, introduces students, faculty and visitors to some of the new technology available with the advent of Ringling’s latest program—Virtual Reality Development—accepting its first students this semester.

Dubbed the WOW room, the floor is cleared, the sparse modern furniture pushed to the sides, while square grey mats demarcate exploratory zones. Within the zones, folks wearing futuristic headsets and wielding what look like joysticks or video game controllers navigate and even interact with virtual worlds only they can see. Explore the inner workings of the human body, take a walkthrough of a new house with HAL—Hoyt Architectural Lab—or expand your mind with the intriguing “Dreams of Dali” program.

But virtual reality isn’t all entertainment and pretty pictures, says Morgan Woolverton, interim department head for game art and virtual reality development. “You can change the world,” he says, “and I don’t mean that lightly.” Applications for these immersive experiences abound, including not just medical visualization and business opportunities, but social justice efforts as well. “The power of virtual reality is to give insight—you see things clearly,” says Woolverton. “Show someone a world ravaged by climate change.”

And thanks to Magic Leap, the technology now available at Ringling goes beyond virtual reality and into what is called Augmented Reality, or Mixed Reality, which entails using the software to enhance, or augment, the real world around the user, rather than creating an entirely fictional environment to be virtually explored. Both have their strengths. While a virtual reality experience may excel at creating total immersion, augmented reality offers infinite opportunity to recreate the world around the user in imaginative ways. Both will be available for study at Ringling as the new program takes off this semester.

It’s a lucky break for the college, or perhaps it’s all by design, but Ringling College was not within the six national target areas that saw this new technology released last month. However, Magic Leap Lead Technical Marketing Manager Shanna De Iuliis also happens to be a Ringling alum, graduating in 2006 with a fine arts degree. And De Iuliis made sure to bring the equipment to Ringling herself. “We really wanted to make sure they got their units a little bit faster,” she says. In the future, students will be able to create their own experiences and even publish them via Magic Leap’s platform, where they will be available for all.

For now, the curious and courageous can visit the WOW room in the Goldstein Library and see firsthand what this technology can do. The equipment will be available for a test drive, and Woolverton will be available to guide and explain.

“It continues to prove that Ringling is aggressively interested in taking opportunities,” says Woolverton. “The DNA of Ringling is not to sit around and wait.”

Pictured: Shanna De Iuliis (right) leads Ringling faculty and staff through a session with the Magic Leap One headset and controller. Photo by Rich Schineller.

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