Vacation to Mars can be real. Virtually.

Lecturer Michael Swartz from the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at UMass Dartmouth has a team working on your next intergalactic vacation, and they are having a blast.

Michael Swartz

Lecturer Michael Swartz from the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at UMass Dartmouth has a team working on your next intergalactic vacation, and they are having a blast. 

In his “Virtual Reality Design” course, students from Animation + Game Arts, Science and Engineering, and Motion Graphics puzzle through the science and art of creating a virtual reality experience.  

“Everybody benefits,” he says. “By putting scientists in a room with artists, amazing things are happening.” 

Using data from NASA, such as topographical elevation maps and reference images, a portion of the Martian surface will be recreated by the team of students. “The concept is that in the future, actual travel to Mars is only for the wealthy,” he explains. The student team consists of workers from a virtual travel agency in the year 2045, called VFXYZ, who are designing VR experiences that anyone can enjoy. 

Yes, it’s make-believe, but the skills students learn prepare them for working in the real world. “They learn from each other,” he said. “Even if they aren’t designers, more experienced students mentor the less experienced. This is how it works in a real-world studio environment.” 

The team must consider the challenges that a traveler would face on their journey to the Red Planet. “The goal is to make the VR experience as plausible and fun as possible,” Swartz says. To this end, students learn storytelling, 3D modeling, digital painting, animation, and game engine integration. “They create a virtual world, populate the space with objects and characters of their own creation, bring them to life using animation and sound, and then allow others to interact with their creation in the form of a first-person, real-time interactive simulation.” 

“The interdisciplinary experience is stunning,” he adds. “Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. It’s fascinating to watch the artists and the scientists blending real physics and their imaginations into the project together.”  

When science and art meet, it’s time to pack your bags. 


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Departments College of Visual Performing Arts, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Faculty

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