Featured Visual Artist: Stephen Waddell * Imurj
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stephen waddell game dev raleigh art imurj emerge gallery

Featured Visual Artist: Stephen Waddell

Stephen Wadell is an Interactive Media developer at NC State University with a passion for Virtual Reality. You can see his work in Imurj’s main gallery in December at our Game Dev Art Exhibit.
What is some basic background about yourself?


My name is Stephen Waddell, and I’ve been messing with interactive media for a number of years now. I grew up in Thomasville, North Carolina and I’ve been fascinated by digital art for as long as I can remember. I had a Sega Genesis a long time ago that I still blame for the long hours I’ve spent trying to learn more about how to make cool things happen on a computer screen, especially anything related to video games. I think the way I currently look at my work is a combination of my recent time at NC State University and a developing interest in how art is made and used. After bouncing around in my studies from computer science, to art history, and eventually to design I finally found myself working with NC State University professionally as an Interactive Media developer and I’m ecstatic to continue working with immersive and simulation technology.  


What are the main influences on your art?


A lot of my work is collaborative so there’s often a direct influence from other contributors on my team. In my own work, I think my main influence is the pipeline I’m operating with and how I can change it or alter one piece of media to make it do something else. I think about the way different media or software work together quite a bit. I’m pretty sure I picked a lot of that up from one of my previous professors, Emil Polyak. On that note, a lot of my work so far has also been directly influenced by the NC State Art and Design program and wonderful instructors there. 
In terms of artists I like or respect I’d have to mention Ad Reinhardt, I think his Black Paintings are one of the most elegant forms of interactive art. I’m also a fan of Takashi Murakami, I like the way his work walks the line between being consumerist in nature and also speaking to the effects of modernity and branding. 


Do you have a specific creative process?


It really depends on what I’m working with and what I want to get out of it. If I’m working on something to explore a design concept I’ll usually start by trying to feel out the interaction and determine what the “moving parts” are going to be. I was working on a VR bow action for a project and I found that trying to think about what I would expect and what motions I could take with the hardware helped me get a feel for how I wanted to design the code that would drive the interaction. One thing I really like about VR is that it creates a lot of cool opportunities to make actions feel natural, and I hope to continue exploring the ways real movement translates to virtual expectation. 


What points do you try to convey with your work?


My work is often for educational purposes, when I’m working with the college we’ll try to use interactive media to give the subject matter a better sense of depth and drive engagement. So far we’ve worked on landscape architecture, chemistry, graphic design, and a few others. So in many cases, the focus is on having the work teach in some way.
In the future, I hope that this experience might help inform my personal work, where I’d like to think through a bit more of the expectations people tend to have of art, especially art we don’t tend to notice despite its constant presence in our everyday lives.
What’s your personal favorite part about your art?


I can never get over how awesome it can be seeing a system really come together and start to show new and unexpected results. Sometimes for me, that’s the way a production pipeline ends up more robust than it was designed to be or maybe developing an effect for fun and having it be perfect for a different interactive piece later. Though I think I get the most satisfaction from the excitement people tend to have seeing the product, especially if they collaborated on the work. It’s really gratifying to be able to work in the AR and VR space while the technology is still new and exciting. 


Do you practice any other “art forms”?


I play a bit of music, mostly just improvisation on the weird instruments I collect. Apart from that I think immersive media covers enough art forms for me! I’ve worked with photography, graphic design, 3d digital art, video editing, (a bit of) sound design, photomanipulation, and animation for the various projects I’ve had and I still want to get better at everything!


What are your artistic goals for the future?


I’m hoping to continue working more on projects outside my profession in the arts space. I think immersive media has a lot to contribute and I’m aiming to explore what it can do for artistic discussions of perception, interaction, and all sorts of abstract concepts besides. I’m also hoping to continue collaborating with awesome artists to give them the ability to move their own works into a virtual space and take advantage of the awesome potential that’s developing there. 


Is there a specific dream project you would like to pursue?


I’ve had sights set on making a full video game or interactive experience for a good long time now. I’m still waiting to find the inspiration for that kind of undertaking and I’ve still got more I’d like to learn too, but I’m keeping it in the back of my mind.