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Alaskan takes top prize in worldwide digital arts competition

Submitted by Debra Damron
Phone: (907) 450-8662

04/26/07

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Parties--Merrymaking
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Parties--Music
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Parties--Sake
Miho Aoki's series of five digital artworks "Parties" took the top prize at the international Digital Creation Awards competition.

Fairbanks, Alaska - There are only a handful of major, international computer graphics competitions in the world. Assistant art professor Miho Aoki just found out that, as a first-time competitor, she's the grand prize-winner of one of them--the Digital Creation Awards sponsored by Japan's Toray Industries Inc.

Toray's DCA competition was first held in 1996 to support and promote artists creating pictures and images using a computer. Last year's competition attracted 616 entries from 16 countries around the world. Aoki will travel to Tokyo in June to collect her prize, which includes a cash award of one million yen, or about $10,000 U.S. dollars.

With the advent of super-fast computers and next-generation, high-performance computing software, the level and sophistication of digital art has advanced at lightning speed. Compare the special effects used in the first Star Wars film released 30 years ago with the realism digital artists created in the 2005 Star Wars movie, "Revenge of the Sith."

For Aoki, digital art is a perfect blend of her keen interest in computing science and fine art. Attending high school in Japan in the 1980s, Aoki said students had to choose one track of study. Faced with a difficult choice, she chose the science and math track, even though her teachers suggested her future success in computer sciences might be slim.

"But I also starting taking art lessons after school," she said. " I felt like I was always trying to live in two different worlds."

After graduating from high school, Aoki attended Japan's Aichi University of Education. It was there she met an American professor who encouraged her to study in the United States. In 1998, Aoki received a master's degree in fine arts from Ohio State University's Advanced Computing Center of Arts and Design.

"Most of my classmates went into the movie industry, but for me, creative expression is more important," she said. After living in two worlds, Aoki said that finding creative expression in cyberart made her "feel at home at last."

Since 2001, Aoki has been teaching digital art at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is a joint faculty member at UAF's Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, one of only 44 Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation members in the country. Aoki has exhibited at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, University of Alaska Museum of the North and other galleries.

She also creates animations of geophysical phenomena for researchers at the university. Her animated movie of the devastating effects of tsunamis on coastal communities, "Wave that Shook the World," aired on the nationally televised PBS science show, "NOVA" in March 2005.

Aoki also produces computer-generated animations for art performances and educational videos, such as her collaborative work with UAF associate music professor Scott Deal.

In 2005 Aoki and Deal presented their unique collaborative performance art "InterPlay: Loose Minds in a Box" at SIGGRAPH, which is shorthand for the Special Interest Group for Computer GRAPHics, the name of the conference attended annually by thousands of computer professionals worldwide. "Loose Minds" incorporates theater, text, music, performance art, virtual reality and motion that is concurrently captured, mixed, digitized, encoded and streamed via high-speed Access Grid technology.

Aoki is helping to expand the definition of art. While her award-winning piece "Parties" doesn't fit the conventional mold of work you'd see at a local art gallery, her inspiration and creative expression come from many of the same traditional sources that generally inspire artists.

The deadline for entering the 2006 Digital Creation Awards was December, which got the Tokyo-born Aoki thinking about celebrating the holiday season in the United States. Her inspiration for "Parties" came from images of frost on a frozen window pane, crumpled up scraps of red paper used to wrap a holiday gift and images of a subarctic winter day in Alaska's Interior.

"The season of joy comes and goes quickly. We decorate rooms, welcome guests, have parties, consume refreshments, entertain the guests and then realize the season is over," she wrote about her entry. "The holidays march into our lives and run away while we are still in the festive mood, as if they are live animals."

Aoki created the watercolor-like images by layering photos, paintings and 3-D computer-generated images digitally, then developed the three-dimensional "party animals" on her computer.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: High-resolution images of Aoki's prize-winning "Parties" are available at: http://www.uaf.edu/files/news/download/releasephotos/07/parties/

Tsunami animations available at: http://www.uaf.edu/files/news/download/releasevideo/arsc/tsunami/

Information on CyberArt competitions:
Digital Creative Awards
Japan Media Arts Festival
Prix Ars Electronica
SIGGRAPH

CONTACT: Miho Aoki, assistant art professor, at (907) 474-5425 or via e-mail at ffma2@uaf.edu, or Debra Damron, ARSC communications director, at (907) 450-8662 or via e-mail at damron@arsc.edu.