Southwestern Debuts Pirate Studios
October 09, 2018
Located on the first and second floors of the Smith Library, Pirate Studios is now available to students, faculty, and staff who are looking to experiment with technology, such as recording video, editing a podcast, or creating resin models. Once housed in different buildings across campus, Pirate Studios conveniently brings together under one roof the Video Studio, Audio Studio, 3D Print studio, and Media Lab (aka “The Sandbox”), all outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Reservations are suggested, but drop-ins are welcome if the facilities are not in current use.
The Video Studio
If you explore room 207 of the library sometime soon, you might notice a sign just inside the door that reads cryptically, “Octopus à la Mode” and “Duck Unplucked.” “One of [Professor of Theatre] John Ore’s classes last year sometime … was doing some type of scene,” explains Instructional Technologist Melanie Hoag, “and that was a restaurant or something. I just left the words there because it’s funny.”
The props Hoag is referring to are part of the two sets you’ll find inside Southwestern’s Video Studio. Whether you’re recording interviews or filming a scene for a movie against a green screen, the space is designed to offer maximum flexibility: lighting can be dimmed, blackout curtains can be used to darken a scene, adjustable mounted and lapel-style microphones are available for use, furniture can be moved, soundproof paneling can help dampen sound, and mixers can be used to customize your audio recordings. Even the two preconfigured sets—the green screen set and the interview set—are mobile, and an empty area allows you to design a set that best matches your needs.
“We have set it up to make it easy to use,” says Hoag. “There’s no need for special knowledge or training. The lights are already mounted and prefocused, so with a switch, a person just has to turn the lights off and on. … We’re trying to set it up so that the cameras will have preset settings,” enabling even novices to comfortably film on the set.
In addition to customizability, the space is also set up to afford users ease of use. “We have set it up to make it easy to use,” says Hoag. “There’s no need for special knowledge or training. The lights are already mounted and prefocused, so with a switch, a person just has to turn the lights off and on. … We’re trying to set it up so that the cameras will have preset settings,” enabling even novices to comfortably film on the set. If you can take video on your phone, you have the background you need. In fact, Hoag mentions, you don’t even need to use the professional cameras furnished by the library; you can use your own equipment, including a smartphone, to record.
And because the Video Studio is a new facility, the library staff welcome feedback. “That’s the idea behind this,” Hoag says. “As people use it, it would be nice to have feedback, and we can make adjustments.”
The Video Studio is located in room 207, on the second floor of the library. It is available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday when the library is open. Reservations are required.
The Audio Studio
The Audio Studio, located next to the Video Studio, was the first of the four spaces that now comprise Pirate Studios. Director of the Library Carol Fonken shares that it “was put together several years ago specifically because President Burger was doing his weekly podcast with Jennifer Stayton,” Higher Ed. But students shouldn’t feel intimidated just because the space is periodically occupied by the University’s intrepid leader and the host of KUT’s Morning Edition. As with the Video Studio, “folks don’t need any training,” Hoag says reassuringly. Instructions for using the professional-grade equipment, which are also available online, can be found amid the digital audio recorder, microphones, headphones, and amplifiers. The only thing users need to supply is a storage device, such as a USB drive or an SD or CF card.
In addition to making podcasts, students have used the Audio Studio for recording oral histories for class and voiceovers for capstone projects. For recordings that demand a warmer atmosphere, users can switch off the fluorescent lights and use the more inviting lamps instead.
The Audio Studio is located in room 231 of the library. Its hours are the same as the Video Studio’s.
The 3D Print Studio
Around the corner from the Video and Audio Studios is where you will find the FormLabs Form 2 high-resolution stereolithography (SLA) liquid resin printer and the Ultimaker 3 Extended fused-deposition modeling (FDM) dual-extrusion filament printer.
If you have no idea what those words mean, never fear: they’re two types of 3D printers—and more specifically, they’re the highest-quality machines available outside of commercial- or industrial-grade versions. Southwestern’s liquid resin printer, which transforms liquid into solid by selectively curing resin using a laser, can print at 25 microns; as a comparison, the average cross-section of a single human hair is 50 microns. Meanwhile, the Ultimaker 3 Extended can print in two different colors and/or materials simultaneously and can produce objects nearly one foot tall and almost eight inches long and wide. It melts spools of plastic and lays down ultrathin layer upon ultrathin layers. Watching either machine work can be quite mesmerizing.
The studio also houses a collection of stations for postprocessing, such as removing supports, sanding, and buffing. More complex projects created with either machine can take several hours, but once users have started their print jobs, they can walk away and return to the studio to postprocess once they’re done. The only cost to users is for the plastic filament or resin used.
“The 3D Print Studio does require some training because there are moving parts, there’s heat involved, and there’s resin,” Hoag says. However, the training takes only 30 minutes, and the products range from fun and whimsical to fascinatingly intricate, including a tiny pirate ship, a detailed model of the human heart, and an accurate rendering of a molecule. Whereas some professors and students have used the 3D printers to create works of art, others have produced practical models for teaching purposes or class assignments. For example, one King Creativity Grant recipient prototyped a new ergonomic keyboard, an intern with the National Labs created scientific models, and artisans have produced jewelry combining resin and metalwork.
For those interested in 3D printing but unsure of what to create, Hoag mentions that you don’t have to create the designs yourself. “There are thousands if not millions of free files out there—there’s a big open-source market out there,” she says excitedly. “The NIH [National Institutes of health] actually has a 3D object database, and that’s where I found this one,” she says, pointing to the molecule that’s taking shape in the resin printer. “I wanted something that was scientifically accurate, and there’s all sorts of possibilities out there. So if somebody wants to print something, they don’t necessarily have to start from scratch.” In addition, Hoag has begun creating preconfigured profiles of plastics and colors that work best together so that new users don’t have to guess at which materials to choose.
The 3D Print Studio is in room 225 of the library. Starting the printing process of your 3D object is available 9 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays when the library is open. Friday printings must be completed by 4 p.m.
The Media Lab, aka The Sandbox
On the first floor of the library, in a room that alumni of a certain age would remember as the 24-hour print lab, is a multifunction space informally known as The Sandbox. Why? It’s the part of Pirate Studios where students, faculty, and staff can play with ideas, experiment with teaching or presenting, and try out video or audio editing, 3D rendering, or virtual reality. The space, which currently houses an AppleTV with projection and screen as well as 10 Quad-Core Intel i5 iMacs, has been used for classes and workshops, and students are welcome to work or study here when it’s not otherwise in use. Hoag notes that it’s the ideal spot for practicing multimedia presentations or preparing for job and other interviews.
The Media Lab is available anytime the library is open unless it has been reserved for a class or meeting.
A little help from your friends
As an expert in instructional technology and design, Hoag is the primary contact who students, faculty, and staff can come to for help if they’re not quite sure how to get started or need assistance with next steps in any of the studios and labs. In addition, Pirate Studios is staffed by “four digital associates who are highly trained, proficient student workers,” says Fonken. Each associate can provide assistance with the basics of all four spaces, but each also specializes in at least one type of equipment. Hoag and the four student associates are available to visit classes to talk about which facilities and resources are available in Pirate Studios.
Fonken is thankful to Hoag for shepherding the consolidation of Pirate Studios into one space, and Smith Library is undeniably the ideal location for these four makerspaces. “Libraries are a central spot in terms of bringing together the academic community to use all of these different kinds of resources,” Fonken remarks. “Now, not only are we able to provide print resources—and of course we have all of our electronic resources, [such as] databases and such—but moving into this next iteration of these technology resources that can support or enrich the academic program just seemed like a natural step.”
“Now, not only are we able to provide print resources—and of course we have all of our electronic resources, [such as] databases and such—but moving into this next iteration of these technology resources that can support or enrich the academic program just seemed like a natural step.”
Both Fonken and Hoag are particularly grateful for the donors who made Pirate Studios possible. “This all came together through a significant grant from the Mellon Foundation to support digital scholarship,” Fonken says. The generous gift, originally made in 2014, enabled the library staff, as well as three postdoctoral fellows, to “find different technologies and pull them together to integrate them into teaching, learning, and scholarship, which is fantastic. So we were very fortunate, … and we are extremely grateful. I’m sure we would not have this space if it weren’t for that grant.”
Now that Pirate Studios is all conveniently located within the Smith Library, Hoag sees enhanced potential for users to see how seemingly disparate fields of study intersect and to experiment with problem-solving within and outside the classroom. For example, because of its applications across various industries, from art and architecture to manufacturing, aerospace engineering, and even medicine, 3D printing fits in perfectly with Southwestern’s commitment to making connections across multiple disciplines. And in all four spaces, Hoag says excitedly, “It’s Think. Create. Connect. With our philosophy of Paideia, it’s not just for STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]; this is STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, and math]. I think it’s interesting having students and faculty and staff realize that there may be possible things that they haven’t thought about before just because it’s possible [in these makerspaces].”
Don’t be surprised if Hoag is one of the University staff you see playing in the Sandbox or producing models in the 3D Print Studio. “When I work with faculty and students, one of the things I enjoy a lot [is] they say, ‘I’d like to be able to do this.’ I tell them, ‘Don’t worry how it’s going to be done or what tools we need. What do you want to do? What do you want to try?’ … I enjoy that problem-solving and troubleshooting, figuring out how to get from this to that. Building, designing—it’s all collaborative.” And now, the Southwestern community has another suite of cutting-edge spaces in which to create, collaborate, and experience those Paideia moments.