Marla Schweppe, Former Chair of the 3D Digital Design Program, Retires After Nearly Three Decades at RIT


It was not uncommon for students of former 3D Digital Design Program Chair Marla Schweppe, who retired in December after nearly 29 years at RIT’s College of Art and Design, to research and learn to model hair, steam or water. After all, game engines got more and more powerful, so they needed to include more and more detail.

When it came to the software used to animate clothes in a very sophisticated way, his students needed to know something about fabric – how different fabrics move, what kind of fabric suits certain types of clothes, as well as the history of costumes. , according to Schweppe, who early in his career designed for theater, dance, television and film in New York and elsewhere.

“To use software that creates trees, our students need to know if a certain tree grows in a particular climate,” she observed. “How do animals move? That is why they take drawings of anatomical figures and have to abstract them for fauna.

For “live design” and productions, Schweppe students researched and learned how to use infrared cameras to track dancers and integrate their images into projections, including how to use facial tracking software for game engines. or 3D software, virtual reality and augmented reality systems.

His students’ work covered computers and video games, virtual reality, medical and scientific simulations, data visualization, and more. Their powerful displays of color and cascading imagery have often been seen at city festivals, including the Rochester Fringe Festival.

Since graduating its first four students in 2011, the 3D digital design program, one of the first of its kind in the country, has flourished under his tutelage.

Throughout her career, Schweppe has strived to ensure that her 3D digital design program, while particularly specialized, unites an inquisitive and dynamic educational community in which research, creativity, critical thinking, interdisciplinary study and social responsibility are explored, cultivated and promoted to have a positive impact, both in the areas of study and, ultimately, on the society in which we live.

What are you most proud of when you look back on your nearly three decades at RIT?

My successes at RIT have occurred in three areas: curriculum development and implementation; integrate computer graphics into live performances; and service to both RIT and my profession. During my first contract in 1993, one of the requirements was to build the graduate program in computer animation. I have added new courses in this program and have added similar undergraduate courses including stop motion, hand drawing and computer animation courses – over 40 new courses in total. When Bob Keogh and Jim VerHague retired, they asked me if I would be interested in moving into computer graphic design and adding 3D computer graphics courses. I took this opportunity because I was interested in exploring 3D graphics software applications other than animation like mixed reality, scientific visualization, etc. From there, I developed the BFA in 3D Digital Design for students interested in using 3D for games and other applications.

I worked in New York theater for a decade when I was younger, so incorporating digital graphics into live performances was an enjoyable part of my experience at RIT. I started using projection mapping in the 1990s. Since then, in collaboration with Joe Geigel in computer science, Thomas Warfield at NTID and others, I have created works using motion capture, face tracking , live performances on virtual stages, animations moving across five iPads, an augmented reality theater where performers and audience members wore AR headsets and, more recently, live performances via Zoom on digital sets. .

Finally, I have served on the Faculty Senate, University Council, and numerous committees during my tenure at RIT. This experience allowed me to meet many great teachers at other colleges on campus. For my profession, I was the art gallery chair for the SIGGRAPH ’99 conference (the Association for Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques). We received over 1,000 submissions from around the world and the final exhibition featured over 100 works including stills, installations, sculptures and animations.

What have been the most effective ways to connect with your students?

Most of the classes I’ve taught over the years have been studio classes. In most of these classes, I checked in with each student on their progress weekly. I enjoyed working with the students one-on-one. Over the years, many students have worked on grants or performances with me, often with students from other departments. I still keep in touch with many of the students I have had over the years and will soon be hosting an alumni reunion in Seattle.

I also started a Rochester SIGGRAPH chapter and RITGraph, a SIGGRAPH student chapter, which students now lead. I encouraged students to volunteer at conferences and many did and still do.

What are your post-RIT projects?

I moved to Seattle to be near my family and became a grandmother, so spending time with my family is a big part of my post-RIT activities. I worked with physical materials while equipping my new computer. I have a few digital projects lined up, but I’m moving at a much slower pace. I walk 2-4 miles a day with my cute little dog named Rochester, otherwise known as Rocky, Rocket Dog, Rock Star, or one of many other names.


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