The terms "interaction metaphor design and interface prototyping" are not exactly house-hold terms. If PhD student Andrew Blakney has his way, however, these concepts may soon be revolutionizing the world of creative 3D computer interaction.
Originally from a small town outside of Saint John, New Brunswick, Blakney grew up with more of a love of film and fighter pilots than a fixation on computers. When he came to the harsh realization that no matter how hard he tried he could not become Luke Skywalker when he grew up, he enrolled in the University of New Brunswick's computer science program. "It was either that or a film degree at Ryerson," he recalls. "I was torn. Part of me wanted to do film but it would have been a huge gamble. I figured once I got into computer science I could still steer my research towards the creative side. So I took multimedia courses as well as some film courses, and did a multimedia systems major as part of my bachelor's."
For his undergraduate honours thesis, Blakney worked on an interaction design paradigm for hand-held devices and became hooked on user interfaces. It wasn't long after graduation that he packed his bags to come to Montreal for a Master's in computer science... at McGill! "I started there because of the university's reputation," he explains, "but after one semester, I realized that the research possibilities were nowhere near what I wanted." Still hoping to steer his research in a more creative direction, Blakney met with professors at Concordia and decided to make the switch. He hasn't looked back, finding that Concordia was the perfect place in which to nurture the artistic side of his research.
Working with Dr. Sudhir Mudur, the Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Blakney used his master's to explore emerging styles in 3D interaction and interface design. He created the 3D interaction metaphor of navigational puppetry, and implemented a tangible user interface prototype, The Navi-Teer, which afforded basic navigation within a virtual world. Blakney explains: "in a regular video game, navigation -- just moving around -- is your primary interaction. I merged that simple navigation principle with the idea of puppeteering and came up with a creatively biased metaphor for navigation.
"We used that prototype to experiment with the idea of interacting in a navigational sense through this kind of interface. As an alternative to a game pad or a mouse to interact and navigate, the user can physically reach into the world to manipulate their own navigational avatar and the 3D world, as you would a puppet on a stage." Blakney projected the visuals that this puppet could 'see' through tiny virtual camera in its 'head' on a screen. The goal was to attempt to blur the lines between the 'action' and 'perception' of the navigation activity. The prototype was further augmented to behave as a 3D soundscape modeling and experience tool, allowing the user to yield unique 'spatial' 3D audio mixes through the act of navigation. He successfully defended the project last winter and received his master's in computer science in the spring.
The eager student, who is also a dedicated musician, is now sinking his teeth into a PhD and hopes to graduate in 2016. The idea of pursuing a doctoral degree was a logical progression from the master's. "I like the student life and would eventually love to teach," he says simply, "so it made sense to continue on and do the PhD." Building on his previous research, Blakney is now "exploring the tangible and gestural elements of new areas of creatively biased 3D interactions." His focus is on the theoretical end of interaction metaphor design interface prototyping as he works to 'gesturally' flesh out his puppeteering metaphor into a complete 3D interaction solution and implement it through a simple prototype.
"I'm broadening this concept of puppeteering to go beyond navigation to the other main 3D interactions such as selection and manipulation," says Blakney. "Specifically, I'm looking at 3D interaction to support creative output like sound editing or visual art or animation." Blakney hopes to break the traditional model of computer interaction wide open by blending the tangible with the gestural, blurring action and perception spaces, and designing unique interaction metaphors and interfaces to test the potential of new areas of creative 3D interaction.