USITT Grants $10,000 To McGill's 'Virtual Textile Project'

The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) has awarded almost $30,000 in 2014 grants to three promising projects – one to digitally preserve antique textiles, and two that will increase automation safety — including a project a Montreal’s McGill University.

USITT granted $10,000 to the Virtual Textile Project, led by Catherine Bradley of McGill University in Montreal, to create educational materials for its growing digital collection of historical textile samples.

USITT allotted another $10,000 to Daniel Lisowski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to fund his project, Demystifying Dynamic Braking Resistor Calculations, to produce simple methods to calculate braking resistor requirements for theatre automation systems.

USITT also allocated $9,500 for Purdue University’s Intelligent Scenery Simulation Platform – known as “Izzy” – a project led by Rich Dionne to explore ways to enable remote-control scenic units to sense and respond to obstacles in their path.

Bradley’s project, co-founded with Kat Lind of Dragon and Phoenix Software in Elgin, IL uses digital technology to preserve hundreds of thousands of heritage textile samples and catalog them in a database accessible to the public.

The Virtual Textile Project is in the process of digitizing antique and vintage textiles from 1850 to 1969 from the collections of four textile museums (so far).

Bradley, who runs the costume shop at McGill, and Lind, chief technical officer of Dragon and Phoenix, hope to have 82,500 textile samples online in time for USITT’s 2015 Annual Conference & Stage Expo March 18-21 in Cincinnati, OH.

Dragon and Phoenix “have been incredible supporters of the Virtual Textile Project,” Bradley said. “Their present tally is over $1 million in technical support and services to the project.”

The USITT grant will fund educational materials for users of the database. That includes an online fabrics dictionary, background research on different textiles, and a guide to using them to print historic designs on actual fabric, wallpaper, upholstery, promotional posters, even employ them in web design.

Lisowski’s grant for dynamic braking would fund his research seeking better, simpler (and safer) values for computing braking resistor needs for automation systems used in entertainment.

General industry calculators aren’t set up to address the entertainment industry’s complicated loading conditions, Lisowski explained. He plans to build a portable test station with sensors and video, test various automated stage movement systems, analyze the findings, and make them available through USITT.

Izzy, meanwhile, will explore the implications of wireless automated scenery by building a four-by-four-foot scenic wagon controlled by the RC6 Wireless Automation system. Dionne’s team of Purdue students will use radio frequency identification, light sensors, and other technology to allow the unit to recognize obstacles and slow down or stop, and even “know” where it is relative to other scenery.

“These areas of exploration may provide a stepping stone to scenery which can interact with performers and audience members in dynamic environments,” Dionne wrote.

USITT’s interest R&D led it to establish the first Spark! Entertainment Innovation Symposium to be held Sept. 7-9 at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. For more on Spark!, click here.

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Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician, Canadian Music Trade, Professional Sound, and Professional Lighting & Production magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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