Collab: Occupy Earth

Parsons School of Design – PSAM 5550C, Fall 2018
Melanie Crean
Tyler Henry

Tuesdays, 12:10 pm – 2:50 pm; 6 East 16th Street 903
Dates: 8/28/2018 – 12/4/2018

Course description

In the Occupy Earth collaborative studio, we will create works of “mixed reality,” constructing new forms of virtual and physical hybrids to explore polarized discussion of the ecologies, climates, and environments we now face as an earth-bound species in the 21st century. We use the term “mixed reality” to link emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality to the physical and sensory realities that pervade our cultural and political lives.

The first half of the course will pair design exercises investigating alternate sensory perception, spatial narrative, and mutable environments with technical instruction combining projection mapping (MadMapper), 3D scanning and augmented interaction (Kinect), and prototyping virtual spaces in Unity. The final project will involve designing layered mixed reality spaces to convey how disruption or intervention to the surrounding environment can impact a character, species, and culture.

The course, now in its 2nd year, is run in collaboration with the Media Lab at the University of Aalto in Helsinki, Finland. It involves students from Aalto coming to Parsons for an October 6/7th workshop intensive, a public presentation with the Finnish Cultural Institute in NYC in December, and the possibility of travel for a public presentation of work in Helsinki in March.

Please note: the course is not an introductory course. As a prerequisite, students must have at least one of the following skills: Unity (or Unreal Engine), 3D computer graphics, or pcomp.


Weekly Schedule


Wk 1, 8.28: Intro

Introduction: syllabus, Aalto collab, exhibition, intro to light and space movement

Assigned: If no Unity experience, download and install Unity 2018 (Free/Personal edition), and do this Lynda tutorial:
Unity 3D Essential Training: “Introduction”Lesson 3 “Working with Assets” (~1 hr)
You can sign up for a free Lynda account using this link and your e-mail address.

Assigned: Check out Mel Chin’s Wake, AR project in Times Square, closes Sep 5, more info here.

Reading: Schwartzman’s Reframers, artists & designers working w alt perception


Wk 2, 9.05: Unity Intro

Tech workshop: Unity I – interface, navigating 3D space, creating a player and “soundscape” (75)
Design workshop: sound games (60)

Assigned: Dark Walk, analog aspect: In groups of 3, create a narrative walk to be experienced without sight, rather using sound, tactile and kinetic elements to convey meaning. Group lineup and contact info here.

Assigned: Unity workshop: simple geometry, lights, shaders, fielding questions from tutorial. Sat Sep 8th, time TBD

Reading: 18 Green Artists Who Are Making Climate Change a Priority , Huffington Post, 2014


Wk 3, 9.11: Dark Walk I

Review: Dark Walk Analog (60)
Tech: Unity II – 3D environment design, Troubleshooting (60)

Assigned: Dark Walk Unity

Reading: start “common reading”, Timothy Morton’s What is Dark Ecology? for week 5.

(Suggested reading: Bruno Latour’s The New Climate)

Weekend Unity workshop II, troubleshooting Unity


Wk 4, 9.18: Dark Walk II

Review: Dark Walk Unity (60)
Tech: Photogrammetry: what’s a 3D object?, scanning, importing into Unity, manipulating materials, lighting, shape (60)

Assigned: Bending the Everyday  I – aesthetic prototype: choose an object or environment, and manipulate it virtually to alter its meaning, purpose or form

Assigned: Due Monday 9.24 at 12pm:
for Aalto Skype, please post to Canvas (or modify what you’ve already posted to include): up to 3 sentences about your work, one image, and one “research” question related to the Morton reading, or the themes of course (illusion, nature, human agency over the environment).


Wk 5, 9.25  Bending the Everyday I

Aalto: Skype, brief group hello, then students break off into group chat (40)
Tech: Projection Mapping with MadMapper (60)
Review: Bending the Everyday I, aesthetic prototypes p2p review (30)

Assigned: Bending the Everyday II – tech prototype: projection-mapping onto the real objects

Assigned, with Aalto: Form preliminary research groups, based on common interests and questions. Read Input Process Output procedure. Based on Climate Control project, start to gather “input” to be discussed with your group in class on 10.2


Wk 6, 10.2 Bending the Everyday II

Aalto: research groups discuss “input” materials for Climate Control IPO (60)
Review: Bending the Everyday II (75)

Assigned: Climate Control: prepare “input” for weekend workshop


Weekend Workshop with Aalto (Mandatory): Climate Control + IPO

Sat 10.6: 10am – 1pm, 6 East 16th St. 12th floor, w Aalto, “process,” creative research

Sun 10.7: 10am – 1pm, 6 East 16th St. 12th floor, on site w Aalto, “output” prototyping & user testing session


Wk 7, 10.9 MIDTERMS

With Aalto, groups present initial output to external critic (Christiane Paul)

Reading: Latour’s The New Climate


Wk 8, 10.16

Based on Aalto visit and initial output, groups figure out how they want to move ahead to create a proof of concept prototype for finals / the exhibition and re-calibrate as needed.

Assigned: short presentation of concept & structure moving forward


Wk 9, 10.23 Climate Control 3 – midterm followup

Climate Control midterm presentation follow up

Assigned: Research for final project concept


Wk 10, 10.30

Tech: Unity III – Intro to VR/AR
Design workshops: intro to Aesthetic and Engagement prototypes

Assigned: Initial, lo-fideity prototype, Aesthetic or Engagement

Reading: Rob Shields, The Return of the Virtual


Wk 11, 11.6

Tech: Responsive Environments – Sensors, Cameras, Connectivity

Review lo-fidelity prototypes
Discuss Core experience, Technical prototypes

Assigned: technical prototypes, considering core experience


11/13, Week 12:

Skype with Aalto: Workshop
Review: technical prototypes
Discuss: Proof of Concept prototypes

Assigned: Hi-fidelity, proof of concept prototype, to preview 11/27 w Aalto, present 12/4




11/27, Week 14:

Final Skype with Aalto, preview final prototypes
In-class work on Final Deliverables, Tech Troubleshooting

Assigned: Proof of Concept Prototype, Final Design Deliverables


12/4, Week 15 — LAST CLASS

Final Project, Proof of Concept prototype presentations w outside critics


Learning outcomes

By the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand fundamental aesthetic principles of Mixed Reality, as evidenced by producing immersive interactive installations based on light and moving image
  2. Be familiar with important art and design precedents involving light art and experimental projection
  3. Be proficient with the use of analog optics, 3D mapping and projection technology


Course Components


Four Primary Assignments

The course has four primary assignments exploring spatial experience. Projects will be created both individually and in groups at the discretion of the faculty.

  1. Dark Walk, an immersive storytelling project based on sound and haptics, 2 weeks
  2. Bending the Everyday, alter the meaning of an object through light, 2 weeks
  3. Climate Control, midterm project, done with Aalto students, 3 weeks
  4. Final project: research, concept, design and execution, 6 weeks

Critique, Presentation and Discussion

The presentation and discussion of work is an integral component of the course. Students are expected to present their work in a clear and concise manner during both casual and more formalized critique sessions, which may include invited guest critics. Students should also be prepared to ask questions and provide constructive criticism to their fellow students.

Presentation Guidelines

When presenting, students should explain:

  • Context: what is your area of inquiry? What are you studying, experimenting with, questioning; and why?
  • Intention: what do you plan to make, and why? How is this making a response to your inquiry?
  • Impact: what is the goal of your project, what impact do you think it will have, why is it important?  


Four readings

Students will also be prepared to discuss all readings in class. This includes any questions that might arise about the reading and its implications for class projects. The first will be about “sensory hacking,” the second on a brief history of “virtuality,” the third on artists working with the environment, and the fourth by Bruno Latour, on global conception of the environment now.




Imaginary Journey, after Augusto Boal (wk 2)

In pairs, one guide and one ‘blind’ guided partner. The blind partner must be led across a series of real or imaginary obstacles found or invented by the guide, as if the two of them were in the middle of some other environment (forest, city street, supermarket, subway). The guides should “sow” obstacles through the room: chairs, tables etc. that have different physical, aural or kinetic qualities. No speaking, guides can use physical contact or sound for guidance. The guided are not allowed to make any movement they are not “instructed” to do. When possible, the guide should make the same movements as the guided, to actively imagine their own story. The guided person must try to imagine where they are, for example, a river? Are there rocks, animals? After a few minutes they stop, and the guided tells the guide where she thinks she is in the real world, who & what is  next to her etc, describing all the information she’s gathered about the physical environment using senses other than sight. Then she tells her guide where she has imagined she was journeying. They compare notes on the story, and switch.

Input, Process, Output,with Aalto students, (wks 6 – 9)
Student form small groups with representatives from both universities. Based on the prompt Climate Control, students engage in a three stage process. During the Input stage, they gather materials related to the prompt, and then rotate materials amongst the groups. During Process, they analyze the materials for themes and patterns, and rotate the materials with their analysis again. During Output, they consider how they might create concept prototypes based on the set of materials and analysis they have received. Groups may incorporate other materials and concepts from previous stages of the process as necessary. More information here.

This Mandatory Workshop will take place at Parsons, 6 East 16th Street, 12th floor, on Sat Oct 6 and Sun Oct 7, from 10am – 3pm, culminating in a presentation in class on Tue Oct 9th. As this is the midterm project, accounting for 30% of students grade, students are not able to take the course, or pass the course, if they do not attend this workshop.



Dark Walk (for wk 4)

In pairs, create a narrative walk to be experienced without sight, rather using sound, tactile and kinetic elements to convey meaning.

Bending the Everyday (for wk 6)

Projection map onto an “everyday” object to change its appearance and alter its perceived meaning, purpose, or value.  Document in video. Consider everyday interfaces, and the built environment.  As your technique, use projection masking (Illustrator), mapping (Mad Mapper), or both.


Climate Control (for midterms, wk 9)

This project involves working with University of Aalto students to research and create prototypes of spatial multimedia environments, that express sensory and phenomenological experience of environmental disruption and change. Students may refer to existing narratives (fiction or non-fiction), events or phenomena to inspire their work. The user experience should consider three-part narrative structure: setup, crisis, and resolution.  For more information, see the complete project brief here.

Political Reality (final project, for wk 15)

Using little or no words, express some aspect of current tensions in ideas of the “Body Politic,” and how they relate to tensions in considerations about the environment and environmental disruption, using light, space, symbolic objects, and set design. For more information, see the project brief here.


Final Grade Calculation

Prototypes: Dark Walk, Bending the Everyday 20%
Midterm: Climate Control Oct 5&6 workshops, Oct 9 class presentation 30%
Final prototype, presentation, deliverables 40%
Class Participation 10%


Graduate Grading Standards

A Work of exceptional quality
A- Work of high quality
B+ Very good work
B Good work; satisfies course requirements

Satisfactory completion of a course is considered to be a grade of B or higher.

B- Below-average work
C+ Less than adequate work
C Well below average work
C- Poor work; lowest possible passing grade
F Failure
GM Grade missing for an individual

Grades of D are not used in graduate level courses.