Specialist turns imagination into images
by Jenny Gerow
Rourk, a visualization specialist in the Digital Media Lab,
helps faculty members bring complex, academic concepts to
this the swirling form of the Milky Way galaxy.
dividing one to two, two to four, four to eight
in amazing exponential growth.
of DNA unraveling to show their ladder-like structure.
you can imagine these, youve probably seen it in animation,
on television shows like NOVA. Youve seen these things virtually
because they are almost impossible to see in reality.
the visualization specialists. They are the behind-the-scenes
computer graphics masters who bring complex and magnificent objects
to life, whether as distant as the stars or as basic as the atom,
on video or CD-ROM, on the Internet and in the pages
of electronic books.
Will Rourk, a U.Va. visualization specialist in the Digital
Media Lab in Clemons Library. He makes his living by bringing
complex concepts to life for faculty, staff and students. And
he teaches others to do this, too.
can make objects rotate, I can give you a view at every
angle, as if you are moving around the object.
not scientifically inclined, but if somebody explains a concept
to me, I can usually come up with a graphic to illustrate it,
as showing how chemical reactions occur, or how galaxies form,
or even providing a digital tour of a museum.
start with diagrams, pictures in a book or sketches in a notebook,
and we build from there. This red ball comes over here, that blue
ball moves over there. Its like holding molecules in my
hand, he said.
begins by sitting down with a client, a faculty member or student,
and discussing what they want to demonstrate graphically. He uses
an assortment of computer graphics programs such as Flash, and
the 3D-animation tools formZ and VRML.
and his clients work together, often through a series of meetings,
to boil down the complexities of a concept to simple-yet-accurate
graphic representations. A picture tells 10,000 words. Rourks
favorites are in 3D.
can make objects rotate, I can give you a view at every angle,
as if you are moving around the object.
has worked closely with about 30 clients over the past few years
in the sciences and humanities. He has created a virtual tour
of Buddhist monasteries for religious studies professor David
Germanos Tibet project. He created an on-line art exhibit
for the U.Va. Art Museum, and he has recreated the Milky Way and
the workings of chemical compounds.
created for me a 3D movie of the time sequence of the forming
of the Milky Way, said astronomer Steve Majewski. I
use it in public lectures, and it really pulls in the audience.
Digital Media Lab is a service of the librarys Robertson
Media Center and the Office of Information Technology and Communication.
Three professional staff members and six student consultants help
faculty, staff and students with a variety of computer and video
services, from digital imagery and audio editing to the building
of media databases and Web site construction.
on the nature of a project, the lab may provide complete product
development, or, as in most cases, technical tutoring and short
courses to clients who will then use the knowledge to create and
customize their own projects. We work on the principal of
teaching a person to fish rather than just giving them a fish,
said Michael Tuite, director of the lab.
learned the basics of his magic as an architecture student at
Virginia Tech in the early 90s. He used computer programs
to design buildings, rooms, landscapes. Along the way, he realized
he enjoyed manipulating graphics programs more than designing
buildings. After college he worked as a carpenter while deciding
what to do. He eventually found a part-time job at U.Va. in the
Digital Media Lab, which led to his present work in visualization
for virtually any subject.
an educator, he said. I teach people to use this software,
and my images are in turn used to teach.
professor Charlie Grisham uses 3D movies created by Rourk to depict
chemical reactions molecules locking and unlocking to form
is very much a colleague, Grisham said. He shares
the fun of discovery. Hes curious and motivated. He works
hard to make his images lifelike and accurate. This technology
is a big leap forward for classroom instruction.
subjects are as magnificent as the Milky Way or fundamental as