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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA office makes 3D projects a reality

For students wanting broader views, the UA’s Virtual Reality Annex may be the place to go to make assignments more visually appealing.

The UA Office of Instruction and Assessment’s free service for students, faculty and staff allows for the production of panoramas and image slides that imitate real life. Gary Mackender, a senior information technology support analyst, has done panoramas of entire environments such as the Optical Sciences building and parts of the UA Mall.

Mackender believes there is no other virtual reality lab in any other campus. Virtual reality technology surfaced in 2000, only one year before the UA founded its lab.

Mackender, who is also a photographer, heads the virtual reality section of the office, which started in 2001. “”Documenting some of the work that’s going on around the university,”” is part of the goal of the virtual reality, he said.   

Although the annex doesn’t get much publicity, media arts and architecture students are usually the ones who look for the services, Mackender said. He recently finished a montage of a building’s model for an architecture student and says most of the work he does is to aid project visualization.

Virtual reality can be used to showcase museum collections, or to show objects for large classes. In one class, Mackender photographed and edited images of skulls for a professor.

“”This instructor saw it as a way to show to his large classes, the 300-400 auditorium-size classes, a large image on a projected screen of a skull that would be impossible to pass around to everybody,”” Mackender said. “”And you can show all the way around that skull.””

Mackender has produced images of around 150 Southwestern pots in virtual reality for the Arizona State Museum on campus. This makes some of the 18,000 pots in the museum more accessible for public viewing.

Shayna Farber, an architecture major, works with Mackender as part of a student technology preceptor program. Before learning about the annex from her professor, Farber didn’t know it existed.

“”I can apply this in my architecture projects,”” she said.

Farber is working on her first project with Native American pots. She estimated it would take her two hours to finish it. Mackender estimated he spends an average of 40 minutes on each project.

Mackender said any faculty, student or staff can check out the appropriate gear to photograph the images and then edit them as virtual reality images. Most of the time, he is involved in all stages of production — photographing, editing images with Adobe Photoshop and then putting them together in special virtual reality programs.

“”(Virtual reality) is another facet of photography,”” he said.

Mackender is working with programmers in the office to expand the virtual reality’s viewing capabilities to be compatible with iPhones and iPads.

“”More and more people are using smaller apparatus to view their web content,”” Mackender said. He also said he hopes to “”implement what’s already out there”” in this type of programming.

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