Papal altar virtually created Computer-assisted design crafted at community college; 'A growing medium'; Virtual reality image said to give sharper view than drawings


An instructor and student at Carroll Community College have virtually built the altar to be used by Pope John Paul II when he says Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Oct. 8.

The key word is "virtually."

Instructor H. Edward Goldberg and student Michael Yeager helped the architects who designed the altar to produce a virtual-reality video of the setting that about 48,000 people will see in real life Oct. 8.

Cardinal William H. Keeler used the video to unveil to reporters yesterday the way Camden Yards will look when the pope visits, in a way that a flat paper drawing couldn't have.

How did a small, newly independent community college earn the technological honor of rendering the virtual images?

It's all in attitude, motivation and connections, said Mr. Goldberg. He added that he and his college share all three.

"We're very committed. We're a small community college, and we believe technology is the key for us," he said. If the school can stay at the cutting edge, he said, it can compete with other colleges, both community and four-year institutions.

Mr. Goldberg was a Baltimore architect and industrial designer long before he started teaching four years ago. He has a strong interest and background in computer-aided design. He taught at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and Catonsville Community College until 18 months ago, when he accepted a position at Carroll. He came to the college because of its commitment to computer-aided design, he said, and commutes from Roland Park in Baltimore.

Two years ago, Mr. Goldberg gave a demonstration of the technology to Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet Inc., a Baltimore firm that is designing the altar for the papal Mass.

When the firm began working on the altar, architect Christopher A. Rice remembered the demonstration Mr. Goldberg gave. He and his colleague, Peter A. R. Wilson, wanted to use it to jTC produce for the archdiocese and for reporters a virtual-reality image.

"A lot of times, as architects we show the plans and elevations to clients, and they have a really difficult time visualizing what it's going to look like," Mr. Wilson said.

The process of rendering 2,500 frames can be time-consuming, however, and that's where Carroll Community College helped.

"Each frame can take up to 20 minutes," Mr. Rice said.

Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Yeager did much of the rendering of the animation set up by Mr. Rice, using a software program called 3-D Studio.

The process of editing together the frames to simulate movement, as if a camera is flying up to and around the altar, took the computer 14 hours of continuous operation, Mr. Goldberg said. It used all the power of the 25 computers in the laboratory.

The finished product, less than three minutes long, was screened on the Sony JUMBOTRON at Camden Yards yesterday. The film has the perspective of an aerial camera that starts outside the stadium, passes through, entering at home plate and flying straight ahead to the simple altar in deep center field.

A choral piece by Henryk Gorecki accompanies the camera as it continues to fly around the unoccupied altar, showing the chair where the pope will sit and the towering transparent crucifix draped in a yellow robe.

In addition to the rendering, Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Yeager "built" the robe, which gives an idea of how the computer animation works, much like actual construction: They started by having the computer draw a flat, unfolded, rectangular cloth, giving it a slight thickness to make it three-dimensional. They then draped it via the computer, and colored it yellow.

" Jurassic Park? This is how it was done," Mr. Goldberg said.

Students who take computer-assisted design at Carroll are using it for drafting and computer graphics, Mr. Goldberg said. The practical applications for the technology include film animation, video games, television commercials and even forensics. For example, Mr. Goldberg created for a lawyer a simulation of an auto accident.

"People who are very good at this are [getting jobs] starting out at 50 grand," Mr. Goldberg said.

Mr. Wilson and Mr. Rice said virtual-reality productions are used increasingly in their field to give a more realistic view than drawings can.

"It's definitely a growing medium in the field of architecture, for presenting proposals before design," Mr. Wilson said.

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