"People in 10 years will be wondering how we were able to do without this!" This is what Alvis Misjuns has to say of the opportunities provided by the latest technology and virtual reality. He is an artist and a student of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (ViA) Master's degree programme “Virtual Reality and Smart Technologies” who has proven – if you do what you like, everything is possible.
How did you become an artist?
I was inevitably stuck in the art world from an early age as I went to Jānis Rozentāls School of Art, and then also to Jānis Rozentāls Art Secondary School. I graduated as a 3D multimedia artist. Studying at the Art Academy of Latvia (LMA) seemed like a logical next step. I was interested not only in art, but also in technology, so I joined Visual Communication Department with an idea that I would continue to master photography, video and animation. I continued my Master studies at the Visual Communication Department of the Art Academy of Latvia where I returned to 3D. I chose to make 3D animation using motion capture - at first I tried to cover my hands, head, joints, torso with something bright and film the motion with a camera. After that I tracked the markings, then converted my movements into 3D. When I came across a professional optical motion capture system, it allowed me to instantly capture motion in three dimensions, allowing it to be captured very precisely with 12 cameras mounted around it. Mastering and using this system required technical knowledge, which I acquired myself, but also after graduation I still had this feeling that it is necessary to strengthen and improve the skills, to learn from industry professionals to do the job even better.
What was your way to Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences?
While studying art, I felt that it was often separated from applied science, but in my opinion it should not be this way. Works of art created using the latest technology seem to be more present and interesting to me. I have a desire to create something new, I want to surprise myself and others. Previously, I had considered study programmes abroad, for example, in the Netherlands where I could have the opportunity to study the development of computer games. That's when I saw that a study programme in "Virtual Reality and Smart Technologies" had been developed in Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences. Of course, I realized that prior knowledge and education in IT would be required, which I did not have, but I took the risk of applying and hoped that my self-study skills would be sufficient to get accepted. After a while, I was invited to the university and had to prove that my IT skills were high enough and that I was able to fully start studies in this programme. The test was passed successfully, which I was very happy about.
What were your criteria for choosing the most suitable study programme?
I'm sure virtual reality will be part of our future, and I think that headscreens are not just a fashion thing or an entertainment tool, so I want to be a step ahead and learn what will be in demand in the future. It was important for me to improve my programming skills, I wanted to create interactive content, virtual experiences. Already during LMA studies, I tried to create my first game, worked with game engines, deepened my knowledge in visual programming, but I wanted to do more.
You do not have a bachelor’s degree in IT. Did you encounter difficulties with homework?
Homework was time consuming because I did not have such in-depth basic knowledge. The craziest task was to create a programme for android phones using android studio. I accidentally damaged the template at the beginning and had to work very hard to do the task. It was difficult, but at no time did I regret it, because, as they say, "Through the thorns to the stars!" Nevertheless, I was good at things that were not easy for others, such as 3D modelling.
You also participated in ViA Augmented and Virtual Reality Hackathon. What was your experience?
For us as the students of the virtual reality programme, the attendance of this event was compulsory. We worked in interdisciplinary teams for 48 hours and it was very intensive work. I made valuable contacts that will be useful in future. During the event, I met with representatives of the augmented reality company Overly, talked to them and found out what they did, and we agreed that I would be able to do my practical placement in this company.
What is your task in the company?
As part of my internship, I make a 3D scanning dome from cameras. With Overly cameras, I have the possibility to simultaneously capture movements, like jumps, and there is a very high-quality result. After the internship, I realized the topic of my master’s thesis - 3D scanning, model adaptation to virtual and augmented reality. It will be a tool that lets you create hundreds of models a day effortlessly. These are currently used mainly in anatomy.
How does the knowledge gained at the university help you in your everyday life?
Now I often come across orders where I have to create stands for exhibitions, medical or work simulations, virtual exhibitions for museums. People in 10 years will be wondering how we were able to do without this! The skills I gained are also useful in my workplace, Jānis Rozentāls Art Secondary School, where I inspire young students to learn virtual reality technology.
What are your job responsibilities as a teacher?
Initially, I taught young people how to make 3D animation, then 3D modelling came along and now I also supervise the final theses of students. There are already five theses out of which three will be related to virtual reality. I want to involve more and more young people, and I feel the need to create a common space, a laboratory to work in because there is no specific place at the moment. We have practical work where we try to do common projects with other teachers, for example, we have successfully collaborated with the teacher of sculpture. Students can create their own sculpture by hand, then we scan it with a camera, reconstruct it, print it with a 3D printer, then casting and other finishing work follows. A great example of how to combine art with the latest technology.
What in your opinion will be the role of virtual and augmented reality in future?
I believe that many, including architects, medical professionals, landscape architects, fashion designers, will soon be fighting for the opportunity to study virtual reality. They will be the professionals who want to keep up with the times and create a modern work environment, who want to use technology in their daily work. The end product is understandable to anybody, including those who are not very familiar with the computer, and that is the best thing.
What are your future goals?
The nearest goal is to complete the Master's studies. ViA studies have opened a window for me to the world of applied science, which has given me the inertia and motivation to engage in work that previously seemed difficult to realize, but now I can carry it out. I do not abandon the idea of doctoral studies.