Exploring IUPUI virtual 3-D tour to showcase 50 years of an evolving campus

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Hayden Bailey, a senior studying media arts and science, works in the virtual reality version of Exploring IUPUI, a new virtual tour program to commemorate IUPUI's 50th anniversary. Exploring IUPUI will be officially launched in 2018. Photo by Tim Brouk, IU Communications

Andy Townsend's unique journey to becoming a graduate student has allowed him to see two versions of the IUPUI campus.

As a 17-year-old freshman in 1984, Townsend made his college debut before the Campus Center or even Eskenazi Hall were even dreamed of. When he returned to finish his undergraduate degree in 2011 and later re-enroll as a grad student in the Department of History within the School of Liberal Arts and the Media Arts and Science program in the School of Informatics and Computing, the campus Townsend first knew was nearly gone.

"I went overseas for a while, and when I came back, it was completely different," he said with a laugh. 

Townsend's experience and skill sets have made him a leader in the new Exploring IUPUI virtual campus project, which received almost $10,000 from Indiana University's Office of the Bicentennial. This desktop and virtual reality initiative coincides with IUPUI's upcoming 50th anniversary. 

Ten media arts and science faculty, staff, undergrads and grad students are about seven weeks into a project that will digitally re-create the current campus as well as "resurrect" buildings that have long been demolished. Users will be able to start in IUPUI's founding year of 1969 and scan through the decades to see new buildings come up and old buildings fall down. The grant requires the project to be finished by June 1 so that it can be rolled out in time for the fall 2018 semester. 

Informatics and computing associate professor Edgar Huang is signed on as the project's lead sponsor. The team also received a $25,000 Welcoming Campus Initiative Grant to pay for students' work, while the School of Informatics and Computing matched the sum in providing $25,000 in facility use and is paying faculty members for their extra work. 

Townsend and crew have already constructed 30 current campus landmarks. Different designers were assigned different buildings to digitally re-create. A recent demonstration saw the Campus Center, Carroll Stadium and Cavanaugh Hall as instantly recognizable. The designers used Unity modeling software, which provides up to 1 million shapes per screen to allow for impressive detail. 

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Exploring IUPUI will allow users to explore 50 years of the campus through virtual 3-D modeling.

With most of the modeling work being done in the Advanced Visualization Lab, the digital artists are collaborating with web developers to make the project accessible to the public. The informatics students specialize in human/computer interaction, while the history students dig up interesting historical facts about the campus and its buildings. 

The format is like a first-person "shooter" video game. The user "walks" through campus, "teleporting" with a click of the mouse or VR trigger to where he or she wants to stand and look. 

"As you approach Cavanaugh Hall, for example, a proximity indicator will sense you are there," Townsend explained. "A balloon will come up and ask if you want to learn more. You press the balloon, and the menu will take you to a brief summary of the building -- when it was built, the schools that exist within it, who Cavanaugh was.

"There will be tabs where you can access various stories about Cavanaugh Hall, such as how the bookstore used to be in there, the Black Student Union used to be in there, the Confucius Institute is in there now." 

While modeling the last buildings, Townsend and his team will "texture" or paint the campus buildings, adding finishing touches on the structures. They will create sidewalks and bike paths along with current placements of benches, trees and even recycling bins.

Digging through the archives 

With IUPUI being a relatively young campus, an extensive collection of photographs and blueprints was found through Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives and Campus Facility Services, respectively. Some guesswork had to be done, however. Photos of the main entrances of old structures like Chancellor's and the Mary Cable building were plentiful, but rarely did a photographer walk around to take shots of rear loading docks. 

"Sometimes the buildings are very regular," said Townsend, "and you can assume the back looked like the front -- like Cavanaugh Hall, for example. It looks the same on all sides. But that's not always the case. Those are some challenges we've run into with the demolished buildings." 

While there are a few exceptions like Carroll Stadium, the project concentrates on the heart of campus, between New York and Michigan streets. West Street is the eastern border, and White River is the west.

"We're trying to stick to buildings that students actually go to, where they attend classes," Townsend said.

Early renderings in Exploring IUPUI show various parts of campus. Images courtesy of School of Informatics and Computing

Media arts and science senior Hayden Bailey helped render buildings where he's attended for years and others he has never set foot in. 

"It's a whole different experience to go into something you see every day," said Bailey, whose degree specialization is in 3-D animation. "One thing I haven't done in real life is go into Carroll Stadium. In this, you're able to go onto the center of the field and check it out."

Bailey said his fellow students have some knowledge of campus history. Tour guides toss in historical tidbits for potential students and parents every day, but Exploring IUPUI will go into more detail in an exciting new way.

"If the students are interested in learning more about campus and its buildings, they'll be able to do that with this project," he said.

A history of re-creating history

Exploring IUPUI is Townsend's third historical re-created virtual program. During a 2015 study abroad experience in Greece, he and Albert William, a lecturer in media arts and science, led students in resurrecting an ancient sanctuary in a 3-D virtual tour format, telling its story in the process.

The success of that project led to a nearly finished media arts and science collaboration with the Indiana Historical Society. For an undergraduate research project for Townsend's 3-D production team class to help commemorate the upcoming Indianapolis bicentennial in 2020, Townsend and fellow students have re-created a section of Washington Street from 1927, complete with modeled vintage cars and old-time police officers walking the beat. This project utilized numerous photographs from the Indiana Historical Society's Digital Images Collections

The details in the Washington Street project offer a glimpse of what's in store for Exploring IUPUI next spring.

An ongoing project

With the deadline just seven months away, the team will fulfill its grant requirements and offer users an easy and interactive way to get to know the IUPUI campus. From local history buffs to high school students considering enrollment to alumni wondering what campus is like these days, Exploring IUPUI will be a useful tool.

But Exploring IUPUI will not remain static. Townsend predicts version updates that will expand north of Michigan Street in order to include School of Medicine facilities. Another vital update will be to modify the project for mobile devices. 

"What's nice about the project is that it can keep growing because the school is hosting it," Townsend said. "It can keep growing and work in different classes; it can be improved in web development. They're always changing web design and so forth. They can improve the modeling, and they can continue to work on the landscape in 3-D."