UNC Asheville Assistant Professor of New Media Victoria Bradbury has received a $44,000 Epic MegaGrant from Epic Games for artistic projects tying together Epic’s Unreal Engine – the software used in games like Fortnite – with physical computing using microcontrollers.
Coming on the heels of Blue Boar VR, Bradbury’s virtual reality project using Unreal Engine to bring people back to the 17th century to play roles in the Salem Witch Trials, this grant will fund two new artistic projects. “Unreal is a software platform used to create interactive 3D worlds for desktops, or virtual or augmented reality. What I’ve proposed to do is to interface the software with an Arduino microcontroller – a platform that allows you to attach sensory inputs or outputs to make things happen in the physical world. While the code exists to make physical computing with Unreal possible, there have not been many projects created using this combination of software and hardware,” says Bradbury.
“I have taught physical computing in my advanced interactive class and being able to interface that with Unreal will be really exciting for a lot of the students,” she says. “There is a lot of interest in Unreal because of the broad applications – not only as a game engine. Unreal is being used in industry, and Epic Games is headquartered right here in North Carolina – in Raleigh. So there will be employment possibilities stemming from teaching students a variety of applications of the software in addition to VR, which I also teach along with Kenneth Bogert, assistant professor of computer science.”
Blue Boar VR is a virtual reality game which features one of Bradbury’s own ancestors who was tried and convicted in the Salem Witch Trials. The game was displayed as part of her Oct. 2020 solo exhibition, S-Witch, at The Front Gallery in New Orleans. Linking current events to those of the 17th century, Bradbury says her Blue Boar VR “considers multiple perspectives in a scenario where wild accusations and mass hysteria are escalating out of hand. It is by replaying the past that we can begin to imagine possible futures.”
Rather than using her artistic, storytelling and technical skills in a typical gaming approach, Bradbury places gaming skills and technology at the service of art and social commentary. “Within the liberal arts context, I’m thinking about games which are so ubiquitous in our society but thinking about them more critically and how can they be used for artistic applications to make critical statements – to make the unexpected happen instead of playing into the cultural narratives that exist in more commercial games.”
Bradbury’s two new grant-funded projects will be developed during the spring and fall 2021 semesters. Clara Tracey, a new media major who assisted Bradbury in the work that went into the grant application, and who is graduating in the fall of 2020, will be hired to work on these projects. The grant also will fund work by two current students – one doing games programming and another sharing the work on the web and social media. Bradbury hopes that disseminating this grant-funded work online and through conference presentations will bring attention to new possibilities within the fields of new media art and design, interactive design and new media pedagogy.