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Art software has applications across campus

March 14, 2008

Art software has applications across campus

It looked like a photograph of a cell phone sitting on a table, only it wasn’t. The image wasn’t real at all. It was created using a 3-D digital modeling tool called Rhinoceros Software, Rhino for short. Created by Seattle-based Robert McNeel and Associates, the software is the newest addition to the art department.

In February, McNeel employee and 1985 PLU graduate Dale Fugier donated 30 software licenses and several rendering packages (which give the created images a real-life look) to PLU. The retail value totals $30,000.

“It’s a major gift,” said associate art professor Spencer Ebbinga. “It sort of seems to me this is what PLU is all about – come here, do great things and find opportunities to give back.”

The program is similar to AutoCAD, 3D Studio Max and Form-Z, he explained. What makes it stand apart is its usability and low cost.

“This allows us to teach our curriculum in a whole different way,” he said.

Ebbinga’s been using the software since his days in graduate school at Arizona State University, and he’ll teach two courses this summer on the basics of the program. He’s excited about the program because it has “10 zillion applications,” many which extend beyond the boundaries of art.

“Design can be used everywhere,” he said. “There are lots of applications across the university.”

According to Rhino’s Web site, the software is currently used in a variety of fields, from architecture and industrial, marine and jewelry design, to rapid prototyping and graphic design.

At PLU, an obvious use of the software is in sculpture classes. Artists typically construct a scaled-down, 3-D model of their sculpture first in cardboard or clay, but editing the model is labor-intensive, Ebbinga said. In Rhino, artists can create the model and easily make adjustments.

The software can also be used in math courses. Ebbinga is currently collaborating with associate math professor Daniel Heath, who studies complex knots. The software can create the knots, giving Heath and his students the ability to see the knot in three dimensions and better understand the problem, Ebbinga explained.

But that’s only the tip of the virtual iceberg. Ebbinga imagines the software being used for stage design, in the science department for digital imaging, by facilities to design landscapes or layout sprinkler systems, and by individual student for special projects.

“What is really interesting about this program, is it’s not just big universities (that are using it),” Ebbinga said. “There are high schools and grade schools using it.

“Learning the program can take you into any field. There are endless opportunities,” he said.