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Franklin Regional students create ‘virtual art’ using grant-funded VR consoles

Patrick Varine

Thanks to a grant from the FR Panther Foundation , Franklin Regional students now have a chance to step inside their artwork.

A $6,300 grant from the foundation funded the purchase of two HTC Vive virtual reality consoles, which art teacher Denielle DeSantis is using in her classes.

“Prior to this, we had digital art and design, but it’s all two-dimensional,” DeSantis said. “You couldn’t move around inside a world you’re creating.”

Junior JoJo Huczko, 16, however, was having a truly immersive art experience on Feb. 11, making the most of her ability to “move” through the branches of a digital tree she painted and animated, adding details to the bark and finding new angles to view the glowing animated ribbons ringing its roots.

“You can just do anything you can imagine,” Huczko said. “You put yourself in this place and you can paint the world around you.”

DeSantis discovered the console during a trip in Chicago, where she used a demo model.

“I started learning more about it and realized this is becoming a major at art schools,” she said. “I wanted to get this so that we could be ahead of the curve.”

Two small cubes mounted on the classroom wall track the movement of two handheld controllers, one that is used to select different tools and another to “paint” on the digital canvas. They can be used in unison to move forward and backward within the virtual environment.

“It’s pretty intuitive and if you have some background in paintbrush presets and Photoshop, you can get acclimated pretty easily,” DeSantis said.

Huczko said it took her a few sessions to get used to the workflow, and to get a feel for switching between tools, but the ornate, detailed tree was created in about three 40-minute sessions.

“I sure hope it catches on more, because it’s really cool,” she said.

Although only two students at a time can use the consoles, all of DeSantis’ students will be tasked with creating a virtual world, whether fictional or reality-based.

“There are worlds in here that are city-scapes, and you can paint on top of a bunch of different frames and guides to create shapes like spheres,” she said.

Huczko said her initial confusion quickly subsided, giving way to excitement, “because I’d never experienced art in this way before,” she said.

The Vive consoles and students’ projects will be on display at the FR Panther Foundation’s 2019 Festival of the Arts fundraiser, which this year will be held on April 4.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.


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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
JoJo Huczko, 16, a junior at Franklin Regional Senior High School, manipulates her artwork using an HTC Vive virtual reality console on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional art teacher Denielle DeSantis talks about creating art in virtual reality using the HTC Vive console on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Through an FR Panther Foundation grant, DeSantis’s classroom now has two of the consoles.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional art teacher Denielle DeSantis moves within a virtual reality environment on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
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Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional art teacher Denielle DeSantis moves within a virtual reality environment on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.