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Arab Data Bodies Project

Lamya Serhir, CUNY Baruch College

Project: Arab Data Bodies Project

Mentors: Laila Shereen Sakr and Oyewole Oyekoya

Week 1:

The first week primarily consisted of meeting the other students, some of the mentors, and Professor Wole in addition to the project proposal. I read up on the research another student did last year for Arab Data Bodies to see how I could build on his work. Last year, he used the archive housing all the data, also known as R-Shief, to analyze the frequency of tweets, language used and general sentiment. A UML diagram of attributes like user, language used, url, tweet id, hashtag facilitated such analysis by organizing the data points. Ultimately, he used the sentiment output from such tweets to animate facial features of the avatar. 

I would like to focus making avatars of very prominent protestors that were in Tahrir Square, the center of political demonstrations in Egypt. Professor Wole recommended creating the scene such that elements of it could be used in any site of major protests, such as Alexandria and Suez. To do so, we can create crowds of people chanting and holding up signs during the protest.

The next steps are for me to get comfortable using Unity: in addition to beginner tutorials, there is a tutorial on crowd simulation that would be useful in my project. Another consideration is whether data from R-Shief archive will be beneficial, and if so, what kind of data that would be. I was thinking of basing the avatars on the most shared or viewed images or videos taken from the protests at Tahrir Square, but there are plenty of visuals available on the internet that I could use as well. 

Week 2:

This week, I focused on researching previous work done regarding VR documentaries. I found evidence about what components of VR increase the user’s sense of connectedness and how immersive documentaries create more positive attitudes towards human rights as opposed to written mediums. There is also research about the importance of social media in catalyzing the Arab Spring that I plan on using for background.

This week, I’d like to meet with my mentor to narrow down what aspects of the protests I should focus on. I plan on completing a crowd simulation that I can use to replicate a protest and finding assets within Unity that would be applicable to my project. Additionally, I’ll continue to search for relevant literature as the project progresses.

Week 3:

Professor Sakr’s team pivoted from creating a VR documentary to a video game. I learned more about the concept and inspiration artwork behind the video game, and will model my simulation after the Middle sovereign. In the world of the Arab Data Bodies Video game, there are five sovereigns each represented by a color. The Middle sovereign is represented by gold, and the theme behind it is royalty and status. I have the necessary components to make avatars move in a crowd-like fashion, so the next step is creating the environment in addition to the avatars.

Week 4:

I began creating the environment for the crowd simulation to take place (as depicted in the photos below). After consulting with the team and Professor Wole, the consensus that it would be best to focus on avatars for the remainder of the project was reached. The next step is to create avatars using generators like Metahuman and perhaps existing avatars in open source websites. There are three types of avatars I plan on creating: one with a human head, another with a robotic head and a third with a half human and half robotic head.

Week 5: 
This week, I familiarized myself with Blender so I could create the avatars for my user study. I experimented with different techniques, such as editing and sculpting to reach a desired output. I pulled aspects of the avatars such as the head and body in addition to accessories from SketchFab, which has 3D animations that can be downloaded and imported to Blender.
Week 6:
After discussing with Professor Wole, it was concluded that my project would be a developmental project since a user study would not be applicable. Therefore, I’ll be focused on writing for the following weeks and including some studies about storytelling in video games. Over the weekend, I will also import the avatars to the scene in Unity I created and animate them.
Week 7:
I spent the week revisiting my related works since my paper will be related to storytelling using VR in documentaries and video games. Most studies focus on one or the other; additionally, I’ll have to include the role of social media in the Arab Spring. I tried to import the blend files to unity, but ran into some issues transferring the textures. Moving forward, I’m focused on wrapping up the results and finalizing my paper.
Week 8:
Although this week was hectic, it was great to hear about other people’s projects and results in addition to taking their user surveys. I learned a lot over the course of this REU about my interests, strengths and weaknesses. At times, I felt like I wasn’t headed in the right direction or got frustrated when I wasn’t making as much progress as I would have liked. But I made sure to communicate my concerns with Professor Wole throughout and pivot my concept when it was clearly not working out. Although I didn’t expect to be working on a video game going into this project and found difficulty creating a thesis from my work since it was developmental and not as technical as the other projects, I think I handled the circumstances as best I could and am happy I stepped outside my comfort zone. I enjoyed the process of research and would have liked collecting and analyzing data. I hope to take on more opportunities that will allow me to do both. I also enjoyed meeting and getting to know the other students and the professor, in addition to members of the Arab Data Bodies team, all of whom were very kind, resourceful and intelligent.
Hunter College
City University of New York
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New York, NY 10065

Telephone: +1 (212) 396-6837
Email: oo700 at hunter dot cuny dot edu

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