Thomas Tucker
3D Visualization | Animation | Drawing | Projection Mapping
Associate Professor, Creative Technologies
School of Visual Arts, Virginia Tech


My work as a visual artist is about creating spatial environments that dynamically represent inner vision and 3D form. Over the years, the way in which I manipulate space, sound and vision has been impacted by the multiple technologies I deploy. What started out as simple hand drawings years ago, has progressed to complex animations and projection mapping installations. Because my work is rooted in art, technology, math and science, it lends itself to interdisciplinary collaborations in a variety of fields. These collaborations have expanded my understanding of the conceptual scope of the technology, which in turn has expanded how my collaborators see their own work.

I think of myself as a creative researcher and educator with my students and also within my community. My research, teaching and service are thus intertwined, scaffolding one upon the other and leading to unexpected artistic projects. For example, one of my first collaborative projects was with an art historian, in which we received funding to survey and animate a heritage site in Ras-al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. It was exciting to utilize my talents and, in a small way, be part of the UAE’s heritage and community, educating future Emirate generations with physical stories of their past. Since that first project, this has been a growing focus and one of my major strengths as an artist and educator.

While at Virginia Tech, I have extended both the range and depth of my collaborative projects that integrate research and education. For example, as part of the Trans-Atlantic Teacher Scholars Project, I created 3D representations of a selection of sites important to the WWI American story at the Meuse-Argonne in France. One of my graduate students assisted in taking point cloud data from the 3D scan, converting it to a mesh and then adding textures. The resulting visualizations help students/viewers gain a spatial understanding of the sites and spark an interest in the greater narrative that the sites are a part of. This project was published in ebook form and the team also presented this research in outreach events at Blacksburg High School and Middle school, which gave my young graduate student the opportunity to both showcase his strengths and influence another generation of multimedia artists.

The New Town Project here in Blacksburg, Virginia, involved 3D scanning of Odd Fellows Hall, the only public gathering place for African American citizens during segregation. One of my graduate students helped collect data on the building using a FARO scanner and two undergraduates helped develop other buildings and props, leading to an immersive, multimedia educational game. The resulting virtual reality and augmented reality program is now readily available to scholars to investigate the architecture and qualities of the building, to schools to contribute to educating students about these segregated communities, and to the public in general to inform them about the role and significance of African-American citizens in Blacksburg.  Perhaps most significantly, the technologies allow all of us to experience simulated performances in much the same ways as the original builders and participants.  This is a priceless legacy that is now preserved for future generations.

In the future, I will continue expanding my research themes and collaborative projects, pushing the limits with my fine art. I will also strive to not only stay current in my technological skill set, but to pioneer the future developments in my field, as I feel I am doing with Robotics Project. I will continue working on the funded project with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) scanning new WWI sites and further developing the AR and VR app and other visualization tours for the classroom setting.  Summer 2015 I have been selected to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities Summer Institute on Advanced Challenges in Theory and Practice in 3D Modeling of Cultural Heritage Sites at UMass Amherst and UCLA. Finally, I will continue the visual arts component of the Robot Arm Projection Mapping Project. This cutting edge project is the first of its kind at Virginia Tech and the first collaboration between SOVA and the Engineering Department, enabling 20 senior engineering students to invent new ways of projection mapping onto moving objects in real time.