The primary subcontractor on the Multimedia Neuroscience Education Project is Lance Wisniewski, owner of Raptor Media in Salisbury, MA. Please contact Lance at Lancew@tiac.net.
Wisniewski has had many years of experience using broadcast television and computer media to aid undergraduate instruction. While a student at Syracuse University in 1970, he initiated the school’s cable television system and the first color television studio on the Syracuse campus. The student-run network was named "Synapse," a prescient metaphor for Wisniewski’s current work in neuroscience education. He graduated with a BS in Communications and served as an adjunct professor in the University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, teaching video production. Under Wisniewski’s leadership, Synapse soon became a leading national center in the development of video art and independent television production with support from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
For the last twenty-five years, Wisniewski has produced educational and instructional television materials in the natural and social sciences. In the 1970s and 80s he produced many segments and specials on wildlife conservation for the commercial networks and PBS. From 1985 to 1986, Wisniewski produced five programs for two instructional television series on the practical applications of mathematics, funded by the Annenberg/CPB Project and the National Science Foundation. From 1989 to 1992 he produced three programs in a PBS educational series on the science of archaeology, also funded by the Annenberg/CPB Project and the National Science Foundation. In 1993 he produced a segment for the PBS series The Noble Legacy where he also designed the computer animation system for illustrating the many scientific concepts in a series that focused on the discoveries behind the prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics.
Wisniewski has always had an interest in the application of computer technology to video production, and his systems design experience with The Noble Legacy led to his next project as the Executive Producer of The Power of Place: World Regional Geography from 1993 to 1995. At Cambridge Studios, Inc., Wisniewski and partner Bob Burns were the overall coordinators of an international co-production to produce 13 hours of instructional broadcast videotapes. The collaborators were social scientists and educational broadcasters from six countries: Australia, France, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the US. In addition to his work with the geographers to produce 52 case studies in 35 countries, Wisniewski and Burns were responsible for creating all the maps and computer animation for the series. They designed the hardware and software systems, and hired programmers to create the high quality 3-D animation on fast Windows NT computers. But to create the maps in the first place, the team chose ARCInfo, the geographical information system (GIS) software by industry leader, ESRI, Inc. ARCInfo was especially well suited to superimpose precise vector-based map information like borders, rivers and cities over raster-based images like satellite photos. At the time, ARCInfo only ran on UNIX platforms. So Wisniewski had to help two teams translate the images from the UNIX workstation to Windows NT using Adobe PhotoShop for image processing and Lightwave3-D for animation.
Although 3-D animation modeling and layout are easier than they used to be, the rendering of long video sequences is still very time consuming, taking hours and hours of computer time. Ultimate approval of each map animation had to come from international partners spread across the globe. Perhaps a color was wrong, or a detail overlooked. Detecting and correcting the error required that the long process of rendering the sequence and shipping a video tape half way around the world had to be repeated until everything was just right. The process could add months to an already significant undertaking. The team needed to find a better way to gather feedback and correct the problems. The solution was the Internet and its fledgling adjunct, the World Wide Web.
Back in Boston, the mapmakers and animators translated storyboards of each map animation into a scene layout. But instead of rendering the entire scene, they first rendered ‘key frames’ and posted them on the Cambridge Studios’ World Wide Web site. International co-producers in any country could log on to the Web and view these key frames at any hour of the day or night. The process dramatically reduced the process of feedback and approval. The results were impressive. Students around the world are now viewing state-of-the-art video animations where the camera appears to fly around the world and zoom into precise details, all over an actual photomosaic made from thousands of satellite images. Although it seems commonplace now, such use of the World Wide Web was still a novel way to solve such problems.
At about that time, Wisniewski was beginning to plan multimedia versions of this and other instructional materials that relied heavily on video. His experience with the World Wide Web left him convinced of its power. But even now with cable modems, the Web is too slow to stream video of quality sufficient for these applications. So Wisniewski found something called ‘hybrid’ multimedia, but he added an important twist. Instead of programming a CD-ROM that also links out to the WWW, this hybrid runs primarily on the Web through a browser. All of the high-bandwidth data like video, retrieves instantly from a local CD-ROM or DVD. The user interface for that video, plus the text, graphics, testing and hot links to the rest of the world all reside on the Web where they can be quickly updated and improved. Wisniewski teamed up with Professor Betty Zimmerberg and applied to use these techniques for neuroscience education. Their proposal was successful. Wisniewski and Raptor Media are now the principle subcontractors on the grant to Williams College from the National Science Foundation, responsible to supervise the animation, produce the video case studies and program the interactive multimedia.