EmptyRoom began just like every other project at a hackathon: a pitch to everyone in attendance trying to attract enough interest to form a team. During my pitch, I spoke about my admiration for contemporary interactive installations (such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Tape Recorders and Random International's Rain Room) and the connection each piece creates with visitors simply by responding to their movement and presence. These simple responses are a delight to witness and these installations are immensely popular. I couldn't help but wonder if it was possible to recreate that same connection using virtual reality technology on the web, so it might able to be experienced by anyone, anywhere. In a sense, I wanted to build my own interactive artwork: digital interactions "installed" within the internet.
My pitch attracted the support of two talented KU designers, Lindsay Trzaska and Logan Burke, as well as a young robotics developer. Together we planned to create a simple virtual room using 3D shapes, with each wall set into motion only when the viewer is looking at it. However none us had substantial experience coding and designing for VR. With only two full days to learn and build our project, now codenamed "EmptyRoom," we quickly got to work.
In the meantime, Lindsay and Logan designed their own custom gif animations, which we then hacked onto the four walls of our virtual room. The frame rate of the gifs was rewired to coincide with the position of the viewer's camera to ensure that the individual gifs would only move when the camera was pointed at them. After lots of crashed browsers and stress testing, we finished our project just minutes before Hackathon came to a close!
After our team's final presentation, we were ecstatic to hear that we were honored with first place at the Lehigh Valley Hackathon! The judges told us their decision was based on what we had accomplished in relation to what we had originally set out to build; just watching everyone play and interact with our project and the smiles forming as they experienced EmptyRoom, I knew that our team had captured that connection perfectly.