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Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center presents:

Building Virtual Worlds

The Class

hello worldBuilding Virtual Worlds' goal is to take students with varying talents, backgrounds, and perspectives and put them together to do what they couldn't do alone. The key thing is that there are no "idea people" in the course; everyone must share in the mechanical creation of the worlds. Students use 3D modeling software (Maya & Max), painting software (Photoshop, Mudbox), sound editing software (Adobe Audition & Pro Tools), and Unity3D, to display our virtual reality worlds. The course uses unique platforms such as the Oculus Rift, Microsoft Kinect, PS Move, camera-based audience interaction techniques, Motion Capture, EyeGaze, and others.

Note that the course does not try to teach artists to program, or engineers to paint. Teams are formed where everyone does what they're already skilled at to attack a joint project.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The worlds section shows samples of student work: each of these projects was done by a team of 5 or 6 students, who had 2 or 3 weeks (maximum) to create the work seen. The course culminates in a raucous stage show, where a juried selection of the best work is shared with the campus community. The videos show the students "performing" their worlds in front of a live, 500-person audience on Carnegie Mellon's campus.

The Faculty

Jesse Schell is the current co-instructor of the class and faculty of the Entertainment Technology Center, where he also teaches classes in Game Design, and leads several projects including the Game Innovation Database, a systematic study of the history of videogame innovations. He is also the CEO of Schell Games (an independent game studio in Pittsburgh), and the Chairman Emeritus of the International Game Developers Association. He was the Creative Director of the Disney Virtual Reality Studio, where he worked and played for seven years as designer, programmer, and manager on several projects for Disney theme parks and DisneyQuest, as well as on Toontown Online, the first massively multi-player game for kids. Jesse Schell
Dave Culyba has a long and storied history with BVW. He originally became involved with the class when he attended Carnegie Mellon as a student back in 2000. Following that, he joined Randy Pausch’s Stage3 Research Group and worked both as head TA for BVW as well as a programmer on the Alice software project. While juggling those two roles, he also managed find time to earn his MET from the ETC. From there he took a brief side quest to Maxis to help make the PC game Spore, moved back to Pittsburgh to rejoin the Alice project, worked with educational robotics at the ETC spinoff startup Interbots, and finally ended up back at the ETC teaching BVW. Dave Culyba


Mk Haley is a former co-instructor of the class, and faculty of the Entertainment Technology Center, where she also served as the Associate Executive Producer, and lead several student projects. Mk has worked for the Walt Disney Company for 16 years, primarily with Walt Disney Imagineering, starting in the Virtual Reality Studio, and currently supporting the Disney Research Labs, Pittsburgh, with roles in Special FX, R&D, and the Creative group along the way. Mk has also served on the Executive Committee and / or Conference Committee for ACM SIGGRAPH for more than 15 years. Mk Haley

Randy Pausch


Dr. Randy Pausch is the former instructor of the class as well as the co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center. Randy has done sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts, and was the founder for Alice, a rapid-prototyping environment for interactive 3D graphics and virtual reality, previously used in BVW before Panda3D. Unfortunately, Dr. Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer; he passed away on July 25th, 2008. More information about his experience is available on his personal website.

How it All Began

Dr. Randy Pausch, founder and former instructor of the class, explains the origins of BVW during his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon: