Lizzy Siemers has no doubts about where her University of Minnesota Duluth education is taking her.

"I'm a video game geek and I want to make video games," said the 22-year-old, who is about to graduate with a degree in digital art and photography.

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To help ensure the university will continue to attract the legions of digitally inclined minds like Siemers', the school unveiled its Motion and Media Across Disciplines Lab on Friday in an event in Bohannon Hall.

What had once been a television studio and after that storage space was revealed to be a state-of-the-art control room and green screen studio, outfitted with the latest video and motion capture technology. Not even the Twin Cities campus can boast having something so edgy.

"This is the biggest and most exciting thing about our university right now," Siemers said.

The roughly $1 million MMAD Lab opened in September and was four years in the making - the result of an infrastructure grant from the University of Minnesota and matching funds from multiple UMD colleges.

The MMAD Lab is unique for its capabilities - virtual reality, anyone? - and a multi-disciplinary approach. The lab brings together the university's digital arts, biomechanics, ergonomics, theatre and computer science programs.

"It's getting people who otherwise wouldn't talk to each other in the same space," said Lisa Fitzpatrick, lab director and grant writer who received a bouquet of flowers on the day of the big reveal.

The lab will be valued for its research possibilities, Fitzpatrick said, and ultimately for commercial ones, too. It's ideal for filmmaking and figures to be a young animator's playground someday soon. In time, the university plans to develop ways to accommodate community use, hoping to include use by a burgeoning film and entertainment community in Duluth.

School of Fine Arts Dean William Payne called it "space that will help us meet the challenges of the future," and a place "where the nagging problems of our time can be solved."

LilaAnn Coates White is an assistant professor in the theatre department, teaching ballet. She pre-assessed her ballet students earlier this school year using the studio's pressure plates and motion capture technology. Her intent is to do so again later this year. It will allow students to compare and contrast after a year of instruction.

"Normally art is so subjective," Coates White said. "This is a way to even the playing field."

Modern students, like modern baseball managers, appreciate objective data, which Coates White said lets them know to what, precisely, they have to respond.

The motion capture technology puts subjects into black body suits with reflective balls adhered to their joints. They're filmed so their movements can be displayed on an analytical grid.

The Hollywood-type applications of motion capture have proven endless, but the educational opportunities would seem to be equally boundless. Especially, said Morris Levy, associate professor in biomechanics, when minds from divergent disciplines within the university are coming together.

"Research doesn't happen in a vacuum," he told a crowd that crammed into the new high-tech lab. "You don't do research by yourself. This very idea is the essence of what a university is."


Go to for video of an MMAD Lab demonstration.