Hands-on learning

By Danise Jones

When seven seniors entered their Interactive Media capstone class in fall 2010, they knew they would be challenged beyond their imagination. What they didn’t know was the significant role they would play developing a unique, professional quality Interactive Rock Show for a crowd of more than 1,500 students.

“This is a big show, and it’s reaching a lot of people,” says Bradley University Department of Interactive Media Chair Jim Ferolo. “You have essentially seven core students and two alumni who are producing a show that, if it were going to be done commercially, would be a quarter-million dollar show. If you were to put a value on the software and the time and the graphics that are being developed, it’s a big deal.”

Developing the production was part of Ferolo’s Advanced Interactive Media Authoring Class, which he taught with faculty member Matt Nelson.

Some of the rock stars Bradley University’s theatre arts students brought to life during lip-sync performances at the Late Night BU Interactive Rock Show were Britney Spears, Eminem, Billy Idol, Prince, and Tina Turner. The screen behind the performers displayed the live audience’s ratings and comments, submitted via mobile devices.

The Department of Interactive Media, in collaboration with the Department of Theatre Arts and the Division of Student Affairs, presented Late Night BU Interactive Rock Show before more than 1,500 Bradley students on January 21 in the Markin Family Student Recreation Center. Late Night BU is an alcohol-free nighttime activity intended to give students a safe, secure, and fun outlet; in just three years, it has become a popular tradition on campus offering activities ranging from a petting zoo to synthetic ice skating to board game tournaments. Never before had the entertainment at Late Night BU evolved from a class project. 

“We modeled it after a production environment,” Ferolo says about the class. His students spent six months discovering firsthand how a concept evolves into a commercial presentation. They brainstormed about the event and its potential activities, wrote all of the production’s software and built its prototypes, and collaborated with students in other majors, along with alumni IM employees from the Morton-based Iona Group.

The Interactive Rock Show team pulled off the production that included lip-sync performances by theatre arts majors taking on rock star personas, a disc jockey, an emcee amid theatrical lighting, giant screen, dancing, loud music, and more.

Developed by students for students, the show relied on the interactivity between the audience and iPads, sensor boards, computers, and additional devices during and between the rock star performances. The IM team also developed BU Rock Show 2 Go for the App Store and Android Market. Ferolo and his students enjoyed creating this new technology for Bradley. “One of the hottest areas of development right now is mobile app development.”

Billed as a “highly engaging collaborative environment that transforms participants into performers,” the four-hour production featured four key areas: Freeform, Jump Around, Glow, and many rock star performances by theatre arts students. Impersonations included Prince, Billy Idol, Eminem, Tina Turner, and Britney Spears.

Online

Visit www.bradley.edu/go/rockshow to view video from the Late Night BU Interactive Rock Show.

Student attendees became video stars, video jockeys, and composers. They were immersed in the rock star portion of the show through mobile voting on the performances and by texting comments displayed on screen. Between performances, participants enjoyed Jump Around, an interactive game similar to Guitar Hero requiring participants to compete in teams and jump on sensor-built boards for points; and Glow, a team-oriented glow stick formation game. In another area, students participated in Freeform, where they manipulated lighting and video and created real-time music remixes via iPads.

A major difference

As part of Late Night BU Interactive Rock Show’s Freeform, students used iPads to manipulate lighting and video and create real-time music remixes.

Since Bradley doesn’t offer a Rock Show 101 class, how did this team of students make this extravaganza happen? They became interactive media majors, enrolling in web and application design, animation and visual effects, and game design classes.

Beginning in fall 2010, IM majors could specialize in three concentrations: animation and visual effects, game design, or web and application design. The IM Department, initially created in 1999, also introduced minors in interactive media and game design and is collaborating with the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, which added a computer game technology concentration and minor.

“Computer Science and Information Systems and Interactive Media have collaborated to create a unique, new program which utilizes the strengths of both programs: programming and technology in CSIS, and design, sound, and animation in interactive media,” CSIS Department Chair Steve Dolins says.

The key components to the IM curriculum are “really strong technical chops,” Ferolo says, that require blended course environments that teach interactive design, media production, scripting, and programming classes.

“It is very challenging because some people are approaching this from an art perspective, but if the desire is to become an interactive artist, the platform you work on is going to be primarily code based,” Ferolo says.

The Interactive Rock Show uses many elements of the concentrations. “This performance is a really great way of showing how these disciplines can come together, yet they are unique.

“How do you create an application that is going to appeal to 1,500 people? How do you make a game that 1,500 people can play?” Ferolo asks.

The answer is Bradley’s innovative approach to learning and applying this technology. While students elsewhere may create websites, IM senior Gus Childs says bringing a class project “to the rest of the student body and getting everybody involved with a large-scale event like this is taking it to the next level.”

During rock star performance breaks at the Interactive Rock Show, students enjoyed Jump Around, an interactive game similar to Guitar Hero designed for the event by Department of Interactive Media students.

In the past, IM has collaborated with other departments for events, such as Bradley’s production of The Adding Machine; Lincoln Tweets with The Peoria Art Guild; and the University’s “Red Tie Gala.”

Collaboration between departments is important, Ferolo says. It provides an opportunity for students to work together and experience what life will be like in a professional environment.

Ferolo believes in involving students in a production that uses their skills in a real environment. “This is something that they actually have to finish. It has to be done so the scope and scale is definitely bigger, and that increases their responsibility and need to really deliver.”

Rock Show’s foundation

The Interactive Rock Show concept evolved from discussions Ferolo, Theatre Arts Department Chair George Brown, and Theatre Arts faculty member Steve Snyder had about expanding the scale of the long-running Rock Show into a bigger interactive experience.

However, the students brainstormed to create the production’s actual games and events. 

“When Jim Ferolo first sparked the idea, we all got pretty excited about it and thought it would be pretty cool,” says Childs.

“We came up with ideas as opposed to having a concept laid out that tells how to make it,” says IM and graphic design double major Kristen DeRosier.

Ferolo hopes his students take pride in the show. “I’m far more concerned about the experience than the actual product because I feel like it models a professional environment with a very high level of standards. It will serve them well once they get into the commercial world to know that their success is built not just on what they get assigned to do, but what they bring to the experience on their own.” 

Students brainstorm about the many components of their Interactive Rock Show during a class meeting with Department of Interactive Media Chair Jim Ferolo and IM faculty member Matt Nelson.

Involvement in a production gives them a sense of accomplishment, but also enables them to discover skills they need to improve. “It gives them a very good introduction to the field and what it’s like to work in commercial production in all the disciplines,” Ferolo says.

As the event evolved, students found themselves reaching beyond their specific skill sets. Although each application had lead developers, the students’ work overlapped.

“I try to focus their work on one concentration, but part of this is about learning new things as well,” Ferolo says. “They might bring a specific skill set to the group, but they are also stretching themselves.”

IM senior Jay Vasse agreed. “I’ve had to do a lot of research and teach myself new things to figure out how to do what I need.

“It’s taught me that I can do things beyond what I think I can. Jim Ferolo pushes you beyond your abilities and what you believe you can do. He has really high expectations for us. It’s tough, but in the end it’s good for us and we’ll benefit greatly from it,” he says.

Time has been another challenge for students. “If we need to work all day every day for two weeks before the event, that’s what’s going to happen,” Childs says.

DeRosier says, “In the end, we’re so proud of the product that it’s worth the extra hours that we have to put in.”

Ferolo and the team hoped their audience was entertained during the event and learned what IM students do. “I’d hope they’d get an understanding of the really amazing things our students do in interactive media,” Ferolo says. “They are actually developing mobile apps and putting them into real environments.

“We have great Late Night BU activities for our students, but I think this one is really unique because the entertainment came from the talent, dedicated work, and wild imaginations of their peers.”