A New Tool In A New Digital World

My project began with research, even before the STEP proposal was a glint in my eye, on countless parts and systems that would comprise my new tool: a self-built computer. Like any good engineer, I love the electronic paraphernalia I use every day to study, work, and learn. But as a burgeoning artist, I find myself struggling to find my way. Being able to assemble my own computer to learn it inside and out for use as a tool for art and technology was a truly transformational experience in how I craft my digital career.

The only time I had spent with hardware prior to planning my budget was accidentally breaking CD drives. Going through the computer science courses for my major taught me a lot about the theory behind hardware old and new, but I still had no idea what was really inside my computers of days gone. Either way, my current tools were years out of date, and college had ignited motivation to broaden my horizons. I always wanted to be more than just an engineer, and hopefully this project, vigorous commitment to artistic clubs, and extracurricular doodling could all help prove it. The most promising new area to explore was computer graphics, seemingly seamlessly combining technology and art. But without this project, I couldn’t even draw a cube on my screen without my laptop groaning and overheating. What makes this project transformational is how it gave me a platform to truly launch myself off. The project ended up giving me a worldview when one didn’t exist; how computer art works was only in my head prior.

After sifting through countless comment chains, tech reviews, and personal testing, I had my list of parts and new knowledge of how it all fit together. I had applied the theory taught and knew why what I picked was the best for what I wanted to do: graphics. Graphical Processing Units and high-Hz monitors alike joined together in my mind to visualize the end product. By the time my budget was submitted and approved, I was raring to go. But that’s when problems came; the assembly was more difficult than I imagined. Unlike LEGOs, parts can break if you’re not careful with them. Luckily, I got by with a little help from my friends and the online communities I scoured. It turns out that when you’re directed to “use force” to insert a chip into a cage, it really does mean with force.

To self-analyze a bit, I would say I started slow in making things happen with this project. I had all the parts research done for weeks before the funds were disbursed, and all arrived promptly thereafter, but school took over and slowed the assembly. Then finals came up and put a hamper on spreading my wings any. Finally, a summer internship was the final delay in getting me to put my motivation where it needed to be. I believe I’ve had a healthy growth with the project since the summer, trying out new tools on personal artistic projects or completing classwork at a constant rate this time.

A schedule has let me develop the skills I set out to. Classes like Real-time rendering give me a foundation to rev my graphics card with benchmarks and small experiments with physics or graphics. For the last five months I’ve been getting better and better at creating cleanly and efficiently with my computer. To be more classically artistic, I’ve gotten video essays that had floated around in my head for years out the door and being shared with the world now. Knowing that I actually can do something now lets me find the motivation and will to learn much better.

I came out of the project with a new toolbelt to do work with. With the capabilities provided by my new tower, I’ve could mess around in engines and frameworks available online to advance my understanding of computer graphics to the point of being confident enough in it to enroll in graduate level courses in real-time rendering, which is presenting moving scenes in real-time, and soon computer vision, or how computers take in visual information. Being a computer science major, it is directly tied to benefitting my day-to-day life at school as well. Finally, I always wanted to give back this information to the communities that supported me in getting it, notably OSU. I’ve started volunteering my own opinions and knowledge founded in this project on the websites used in its construction. After being turned down by a handful of Columbus institutions, I’ve decided to network with the Animation Club and our own ACCAD to figure out a way to present the technical processes and information I’ve gathered across this transformation to the community. I’m even applying to ACCAD to continue my education very soon, and I’m sure my tool will accompany me along the way. Overall, being able to encourage myself to try the path of graphics that I always wanted to do but never could was the largest benefit of this project, and the people I’m able to help and inform will be the continuing reward as I advance my way into the bleeding edge between art and technology.

Chance Lytle | lytle.100