VINCENNES, Ind. - Pumpkin spice season was in full swing, fall colors hadn’t peaked yet, and Halloween was weeks away. However, Vincennes University information technology students Kyle Lutz and Christian Swinford already had visions of snow globes and winter dancing in their heads.
Challenged in October with the task of creating a unique holiday video greeting on behalf of VU President Chuck Johnson, the two student designers and directors were immersed in all things holiday well before the calendar turned to December.
Lutz and Swinford were joined by Jaci Lederman, IT department chair, and instructor Newton Lee in developing the concept of taking Johnson on a virtual reality experience. In the greeting, Johnson enjoys a fully immersive VR journey via Snow Globe Travel set to the song “Carol of the Bells.” At the start, Johnson is instructed to put on the VR headset and shake the snow globe, which takes him on a virtual visit to several VU locations. The greeting ends with Johnson stepping into a crowd of well-wishers in front of Jefferson Union (in actuality he was in front of a green screen background during the production).
“It was a fun and interesting experience,” Johnson said. “The students had done a lot of preparation and work. They were very professional. They were good about giving me directions and they were patient with me because the technology was a little bit awkward to get used to in the beginning. I was really impressed with their creative vision along with their technical capabilities. It made me very proud to have them work on this.”
Watch VU’s 2018 Holiday Greeting HERE.
If you were wearing special VR equipment, you could experience the greeting from the same perspective as Johnson.
“The president being in the virtual reality environment…it was certainly a VR greeting card,” Swinford said. “For everyone else it’s more of just like a regular video greeting card.”
The student-produced video showing Johnson in a wintry VR world takes a little more than three minutes to watch, but it took countless hours of planning and creating. Lederman is proud of the recognition that developing and producing the greeting brings for the students.
“We have great students in the IT department,” she said. “They make a lot of stuff happen here. The President’s office came to us and I think they knew we could do it. I’m honored that they think that way of us.”
Swinford, an Indianapolis native, and Lutz of Vincennes have earned associate degrees in programming and video game development. Both are currently working toward baccalaureate degrees in technology with a concentration in information technology. Putting together a holiday message for Johnson provided the two students with an amazing opportunity to not only work with the University President, but to help craft a celebratory greeting viewed by many.
“There’s a lot that goes into this and there’s a lot that came together to make it work,” Swinford said. “There were a lot of small components. Just having everything come together like that is nice, but the nerves were there because there’s so much that could have not happened that we needed to.”
The project required many hours of detailed work. Creating a VR world means creating the objects in it. That demands a “million details,” according to Lederman.
“We had to simultaneously think of two different perspectives while doing it because we had the President’s perspective - which was in the VR - and then we had everyone else looking into his VR experience,” Lutz said. “It was a lot of good practice. I learned a lot.”
This isn’t the first time students have produced a holiday greeting for a VU president. “We have so many students that we are preparing to go into the workforce and the next phase of their career, and we pride ourselves on having students who are hands-on and can do things,” Johnson said. “Why not take advantage of those great skills and give our students something that can help build their portfolios or their resumes.”
Swinford is most proud of student involvement in the project. “I hope the one thing that people understand is that students worked on this,” he said. “We care very dearly about the work that we’ve done here. A lot of time and effort has been put into it. I think that reflects back, but I really hope people can see and understand that.”
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