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USC's new Interactive Media Building is 'ultimate playground'

EducationGaming IndustryGamingEntertainmentOprah WinfreyEA Tiburon

USC's newest structure, the Interactive Media Building, features all the design elements of modern offices housing tech start-ups — and some added perks.

The three-story, 60,250-square-foot facility, to be opened publicly Wednesday, has the adjustable furniture, the open ceilings and the emphasis on collaborative spaces. But it also mixes the next generation of media and gaming into the labs and other rooms.

Throughout the building, part of the School of Cinematic Arts, students will find Microsoft Kinect motion sensors, Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, pairs of 3-D glasses and touch-screen monitors for apps and games.

"I've joked that the name should be 'The Building for Very Cool Stuff,'" said the school's dean, Elizabeth Daley. "It's the ultimate playground that lets people really try stuff and collaborate."

For example, those who download a special mobile app can be tracked through Wi-Fi signals as they move around the building. That would allow, for instance, a nearby screen to greet them by name as they go by. The system could be used to draw people into social events or inform them about their contribution to the building's energy usage.

"It's more interesting and intriguing than creepy," said Tracy Fullerton, chair of the School of Cinematic Arts' Interactive Media & Games Division, a position endowed by video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc.

Filmmaker George Lucas' family foundation pledged at least $45 million toward the $50-million construction project. The school is raising more funds to pay off remaining costs and to pay for furnishings and equipment.

Related institutes, research labs and offices spread through a handful of locations in the University Park neighborhood are being consolidated in the structure, at the southeast corner of 34th Street and McClintock Avenue.

"Having that intermixing of technologies and strengths will be the real benefit of this building," Fullerton said.

Students were at work in the media building this week, developing educational games, futuristic movies and activities that blend the real and the virtual worlds.

One game being developed could help autistic children understand emotions by seeing that punching a sensor-filled stuffed animal will yield a sadder response than gently stroking its back.

Another project explores how media's influence on society has turned personalities such as Oprah Winfrey into god-like figures. And in another game, a user can play the pet cat of former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

The building also gives students easy access to a 3-D printer. On Monday afternoon it took 90 minutes to print the frame for a pair of magnifying glasses that will be attached to an iPad.

Fullerton said the increased space to test these gadgets would further the school's goal of helping students create emotional, interactive stories, the foundation of the cinematic arts school. Her division has been an incubator for a number of companies.

"Because of the new business structures emerging, there's a lot of opportunities for young companies," she said. "We're looking to get students to a place where they can take advantage of the attention their amazing work receives."

From their first week in school, students are given tasks that provide a glimpse into the companies of tomorrow and their possible jobs. And the new building's high-tech sensors and gadgets will help teachers evaluate how well students are doing with such requirements as collaborating with colleagues — a key part of most tech operations.

"You start acting, making and doing from Day One," Fullerton said. "Those are going to be your keys to unlock the future."

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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