CMU Environments: Project Two

AR Lab — Environments [Animal Animation]

Julia Sanders

Intro — 10/1

The first part of the project began with deciding what part of freshman year I wanted to create for the tour. I knew I wanted to do something from the animal project because that had been my favorite from the year. Also, I’m a sucker for animals.

I started to consider what aspects of the animal project would lend themselves well to VR/AR; I decided to go with the animation project because I wanted to incorporate movement into the piece, and having a video gave me a pretty solid foundation.

As I began to brainstorm, I realized that that the challenge was how to incorporate the video platform with AR/VR, moving beyond something like a touchscreen. It’s easy to have someone put on glasses, watch a video, and call it VR; I wanted to move past that and figure out a way for the user to be immersed in the experience, almost as if they are in the habitat with the animal.

The storyboard — 10/8

I decided to take a more two-dimensional approach when designing the storyboard in Gravity Sketch.

  1. Entering freshman studio, stepping up to VR space
  2. Choosing between viewing animations on a touch screen, or deciding to experience animations with VR glasses

If the person decides to enter the VR space, they‘ll step into a physical space set aside specifically for the experience. They’ll be able to walk around and see the video three-dimensionally. For example, in my project, I decided to use the northeastern cougar. In the beginning portion, I have the cat bounding up and down mountainous boulders; below, I’ve illustrated what it would be like to separate those layers so that the viewer can step in and out of the space. In theory, the cougar would be able to bound around the user.

Working Through the Details

When talking with Daphne, she mentioned how the concept itself is interesting, but the execution may be difficult. She asked me why exactly would I have the user walk into the space–what does that afford for the viewer? In other words, what is the point?

So, I had to further revise my concept and ask myself even more questions:

  1. Why should a viewer want to step into the space / what does this provide them?
  2. How is this different from simply viewing this on a screen?

I began to answer these by creating a physical environment for the user to explore before they are even prompted to enter the virtual reality space. Below, I’ve illustrated a visualization of what it would be like:

The user first sees a physical space: a poster and a table that has various pieces of construction paper students have used for the project. The poster explains the prompt and then instructs the user how to virtually enter the space on the right.

I then began to develop a prototype video on After Effects. Once the user chooses to enter the space on the right, they are prompted with questions through glasses such as: “enter space?” and are told they are about to view the student animations with virtual reality.

In the video, I also worked on how the user would select the icon they want to view. This was all designed with Illustrator and After Effects.

Asking More Questions

Although I began to figure out the basic interaction the user experiences, I had to go back and revisit the prompt to make sure I was including everything in the project. I remembered something that Daphne and I had talked about: why should the user step into this space/what does it afford that a touch screen does not (both the physical aspect and VR aspect)?

Below, I showed what it would be like for the user to enter the space and see the environment split layer by layer. The user can walk around each piece while they are inside, and they can start, stop, pause, rewind, and exit whenever they’d like.

Another important aspect of the experience is the sound portion; I feel like the environment would lose the immersive aspect if it didn’t have the sound we originally included in our freshman project. Below, screenshots explain what it’s like when the user selects the animal project they want to view; the logos in the back disappear, and everything goes blue in preparation for showing the project.

In the visualization below, I’ve created what it’s like for the viewer to step into the space. Something I considered was scale. From the projects, each animal was incredibly different in size, and so I decided to condense this down to a specific scale.

I figured out how to take the original 16:9 ratio and translate that onto the floor. The experience itself would be around 6 feet high, and about 8 feet wide. Below, I’ve created a visualization of what it would look like.

I think there is something very interesting about being able to walk into the space of the actual animation. The VR experience itself, however, has a lot more to offer than just seeing the space three-dimensionally. I began thinking back to the research we had done before starting the project, and I thought it would be interesting to implement those things into the virtual reality space.

Refining the AR Experience

Once I had decided how the VR experience worked, I knew from talking to Daphne that I needed to include more of the physical aspect into my design. However, how was I going to do so with construction paper?

I decided to revisit my personas and remember why I was designing in the first place: to show prospective students and parents the kinds of projects we do in the program. Considering this, I realized this could be an opportunity to give students in the program to talk about the project itself using AR.

The idea is that, when the user picks up the construction paper, a screen appears which gives the description of the student; what their major is, what they look like, and what track they’re pursuing.

Below, the student will give a quote describing their experience with the project. After I made this, I thought it would be cool if you were able to hear the student give said quote, so the user will have that option.


I really felt like the two projects we covered in this class gave me a more solid understanding of what environments means, because we got to explore the physical and digital spaces, and how those things relate to VR, AR, and human interaction. Sure, the technology might not be available yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to design for the future. After all, that’s what design is. I really felt like this class was preparing all of us for the ways of the future, and I thought that was really cool — for lack of a better word.

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