High-Tech Art Erupts at University of Alaska Fairbanks and Arctic Region Supercomputing Center

FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- A varied collection of students come together every Monday and Wednesday at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center's Training Lab in the Butrovich building to go where no one has gone before...at least at UAF. Thanks to the efforts of Art Professor Bill Brody and the high performance computers at ARSC, the UAF community has a new high-tech opportunity at its fingertips. Opportunity available at only a handful of campuses across the United States.

A new class offering, Art 472, has Brody directing his students through the Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) Alias Wavefront software, tools used heavily by the entertainment field to create movies and television commercials, and by the scientific community to generate visualizations and 3-D product design. The class includes physics graduates, Fairbanks multimedia professionals, an art major, a journalism major, and Geophysical Institute staff. In addition to forming partnerships to complete the semester's assignment, they have formed collaborations on extra-curricular activities, such as applying for a National Science Foundation grant on emerging computer technologies.

The Alias Wavefront software is quite expensive, approximately $60,000 per copy. Brody and ARSC managed to secure UAF's participation in SGI's "campus partnership" program. UAF receives eight copies of all Wavefront products, valued at $500,000, for an annual license fee of $9000. ARSC paid for Brody's Wavefront instructor training, the significant equipment requirements, and the bulk of the license fees. The requirements from SGI are that UAF teach Wavefront classes, put the SGI logo on all productions, not use the software for commercial purposes, and send reports with videotapes of class projects to SGI.

Brody is guiding his students through the complex software that some day may have them creating professional movie-quality productions. It may take several semesters of continued study, but these skills can lead to jobs in Hollywood or at other supercomputing centers and universities. By the end of this semester, the students will be simulating physical processes such as explosions, fire, volcanoes, and wind.

According to ARSC Director Frank Williams, "ARSC's role is to work with faculty and students to advance utilization of high performance computing at UA - this kind of direct support creates excitement in and opportunity for our whole community." Brody has been a long time advocate for visualization at UAF and has successful collaborations with the Computer Science department and ARSC using the high-powered tools available. He was instrumental in the earliest Computer Art offerings at UAF in 1985. In 1995, ARSC had him develop the Healy Clean Coal Project visualization. Brody is also a recipient of an ARSC Cray Grant.

In operation since 1992, ARSC continues to support computational research, science, and engineering--with emphasis on the high latitudes and the Arctic. ARSC provides scalar-vector and massively parallel processing (MPP) talent and related resources--high-performance computing, networking facilities, training, and technical support--to federal and state agencies, the academic community, and commercial affiliates.

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