Atkins High School senior Hunter Chen finished up his fall internship at CDI this month. Reflecting on his experience this semester and throughout the past several years, Chen looks excitedly and confidently toward his future goals. The following interview captures the essence of CDI’s role in cultivating future innovators.
CDI: How did you first hear about CDI?
H: During my freshman year at Atkins High School, my technology teacher, Mr. (George) Eckart, told me about an upcoming CDI Idea Exchange and encouraged me to go. I didn’t know what that was, but decided to check it out with another student. There we met (CDI’s founding director,) Dr. Strohecker, heard about an internship opportunity, and asked for more details. I got my first internship that summer.
CDI: What attracted you to come work here?
H: At the Idea Exchange, I saw everyone’s cool stuff like Nick Hristov’s presentation on bats, and knew CDI was awesome place. I’d get to interact with all these people.
CDI: What kept you coming back each year?
H: The first summer was basically spent learning how to do the stuff I do now, getting up to speed on Maya. I worked through several small projects teaching myself how to use the program. I knew I had jumped into the black hole of cool stuff and wanted to know more. So I asked if I could come back the following year, and Dr. Strohecker said sure.
CDI: Describe the project(s) that you worked on here.
H: The second summer, Dr. Hristov asked for an animation using motion capture data of bats. I finished that project early and moved on to helping fellow collaborator, Gary Rodgers, on another project. We worked together to take 3D scans of bones and animate them, making them talk and explaining what happens at CDI. Last summer, I worked again with Nick on a project that he hopes to present at SIGGRAPH, the worldwide event for computer graphics showcasing new, high tech innovations.
He planned to present some research that he was doing with bats and how we can visualize them with Maya. At the end of the summer, there was still more work to do. I wanted to finish this project, so I made a deal with the school for an advanced project class that I could do at CDI. Getting credit this time, I spent my senior fall semester on the project, taking it near completion. Another collaborator will help finish up the project, which should lead to a finished presentation to submit to SIGGRAPH or elsewhere.
CDI: What was your role in the project?
H: I’ve worked with three different data sets of research. The first is motion capture data of bat flight, how bats fly and how their wings move. With that data I basically modeled a bat and kind of animated it to the mocap data so we can visualize the bat moving in 3D space. The second set involves videos of a swarm of bats leaving the cave. Since the videos are taken from different angles, we can extract 3D position data from each bat from the videos. This shows us how the whole colony of bats moves as it exits the cave. The third data set, Particle Image Vlocimetry (PIV), shows how air moves as bats fly through it. We visualize the moving air around the bat. With the data, Nick’s two previous research papers can now be illustrated with 3D visualizations.
CDI: What tools did you primarily use in this project?
H: I used Maya for modeling and Photoshop for texturing (linked to Maya). After the renders, I believe they will be using Premiere to compile all the pieces.
CDI: What did you like about the project?
H: I liked that it’s a new process. I haven’t seen much about PIV data being used before. Since it’s all relatively new, I feel that I am contributing to the advancement of science … it’s a novel feel.
CDI: What did you dislike about the project?
J: The fact that it’s new is also a dislike. I haven’t been able to find others to help with expertise in the technology. The knowledge pool is not there yet.
CDI: What did you learn from the project?
H: I immediately felt a coolness attraction and fell in love with the world of 3D animation. I learned that I want this freedom to express creativity. I just wanted to continue working here.
I’ve learned so much like how to be a lot more independent in figuring out problems. With the lack of a knowledge pool you have to figure it out yourself. I’ve figured out a lot about how to work with Maya and the different aspects of modeling, animation, and the tools.
CDI: What will you do next? (after high school)
H: I’m hoping to go to college, looking at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Duke. I’m planning on going into either engineering, computer science, or some kind of graphical animation since that was my focus here.
CDI: How will your experience at CDI help you?
H: I’ve gotten a lot of professional experience working here, especially in computer animation. I don’t think many people my age have spent as much time with Maya as I have. I’ve done a lot of work, and I can do more. I have high hopes for the future.