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The Future of Virtual Reality Tech at NASA with Adobe Photoshop Creative Resident Tanya Gupta

Jun 9, 2022

Tanya Gupta

Season 3 Episode 6

In this episode we will be meeting Tanya Gupta, a multimedia artist, mixed reality engineer, and entrepreneur. Her focus as an adobe creative resident is to improve her understanding and abilities in Photoshop, which stems from a project she began in 2020 titled “#QuarantineArt.”

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Megan Luedke

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be an engineer at NASA and work on futuristic projects that might one day go to Mars or maybe wonder what it would be like to be a part of the Adobe Creative Residency Program and follow your creative passions. Well, today, my friends will meet with Tanya Gupta, a multimedia artist, mixed reality engineer and entrepreneur.

Megan Luedke

She's a former NASA intern and current Adobe creative resident. And we will get answers to both of those questions. Her focus as a creative resident is to empower people to use their entire left brain and entire right brain skill set to create and consume art and to continue learning and pursuing her career as a designer. Her creative residency stems from a project she began in 2020 titled Hashtag Quarantine Art, where she invited friends and followers to submit their smartphone selfies that she would turn into creative works of art.



Megan Luedke

But her journey begins much earlier than 2020.



Tanya Gupta

I come from an engineering background. I studied mechanical engineering at NYU and undergrad, and while I was there, I completed two internships at NASA. One rotation was at Armstrong Flight Research Centre, and I over there I was working on a project called Perennial M, which is intended to be the first Martian aircraft. And then my second rotation that I did was at the Augmented and Virtual Reality Lab at Kennedy Space Centre, where I helped Patent Day 3D model conversion tool for virtual reality.



Megan Luedke

After graduating from NYU, she took a job as a hardware engineer at IBM.



Tanya Gupta

That led me right into the pandemic when my job went fully remote and I picked up a skill that I had been wanting to learn for a long time, which was Photoshop and I started sharing my work and my progress online on Instagram and just on social media. And it just kind of garnered, you know, a following.



Tanya Gupta

My friends and family also followed it and became more engaged with my work. But then I also kind of created a community of other people who are also creative, who also had maybe a tech background, but we're trying to find their creative outlet during the pandemic. A lot of people, I think, can relate to that. So that kind of led me into 2021 when I found out that the Adobe Creative residency applications were opening.



Tanya Gupta

And that's basically an incubator that Adobe does every year, and it takes a select number of participants that come from all different fields but using Adobe products. So, there's UX designers, photographers, filmmakers, etc. And so, I was chosen as the digital and photo resident for the year. So that's led me to now and my residency ends at the end of May and then I kind of get to decide what direction I want to take my career.



Jens Bringsjord

Tanya has always had a love for outer space. And while many aspiring kids back in the late eighties and early nineties wanted to be astronauts after seeing space shuttles launching from Earth, Tanya story is a little bit more interesting.



Tanya Gupta

I love telling this story. My favourite stories. Okay, so there's two parts to this. So, the first one starts, and I like probably three, three or four years old and, you know, like every kid has like a. I was going to say VHS because I'm 100 years old, but like, you know, a DVD or like a movie that you throw on, it's like they're a comfort movie and they watch it over and repeatedly.



Tanya Gupta

For me, it was this, I think, 1987 or 85, 87 movie called Barbie and the Rockers out of this World. And it's the whole name and the premise of this animated movie. It's like a cartoon movie is that Barbie is deaf. She has like a band. It's Barbie in the Rockers, and they're asked to perform the first ever concert in space for peace.



Tanya Gupta

So, she's, like, the first ever astronaut pop star. And I was like, That's my dream job. That's going to be me. It's so it's so cute. It's sweet. I think you can find, like, a recording of it on YouTube somewhere. But, you know, she there's like a pink space shuttle that looks just like a real space shuttle, but it's pink and it says Barbie on it.



Tanya Gupta

And that's when I was like, Yeah, this is this is it for me. But the concert venue in space was a giant flower. It was like the International Space Station was the petals of the flower. And it had liked a giant stem coming out of it. And the stem was like an elevator that you took to go into space.



Tanya Gupta

There is not a single ounce of realism to the science in this movie. Okay.



Tanya Gupta

And this is the last thing I will say about it. But like the whole ending of that film is that they end up going into a wormhole and traveling back in time, like 50 years. So, to answer your question, yes, truly a work of fiction realistically, when it really clicked for me was when I visited Johnson Space Centre for the first time.



Tanya Gupta

I think I was eight or nine years old. I have family in Houston, so we were visiting them, and we went to the NASA Centre. And it's like an amusement park. I mean, it's just like the coolest thing ever. And it was there when I like touched my first moon rock and saw my first astronaut suit that I was like, this is real.



Tanya Gupta

Like, I want to do this. And that's what solidified my love of science and stuff.



Megan Luedke

To graduate from NYU. Tanya still needed to take on a few internships to ensure she was on track to graduate. After hundreds of applications, literally. Tanya finally got a call back from Nasser about an internship for 2018, one of which was called the Prindle Project. During her time at NASA, she focused on methods of analysing and testing Martian air capabilities.



Megan Luedke

Here on Earth.



Tanya Gupta

It's a Martian glider. So, it's an aircraft that is designated to go into the Martian atmosphere and gather data about it. And then when it collects that data, bring it back to us here on Earth to inform our decisions about how we want to set up a colony on Mars. So, the end goal is really to understand what we need to do to make an environment that's safe for humans on that planet.



Tanya Gupta

But to do so, we obviously need to get the data first. So, when I was working on this project, it was in preliminary stages. I was in the testing phase, so my role was as an operations engineer. So, I was doing a lot of test flights using the prototype that we had made. Now the closest part of the Earth's atmosphere that can closely mimic Martian atmosphere.



Tanya Gupta

So, it's like where a lot of weather balloons go out to. So, the test flights that we did were out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a club flight, basically like an air airplane that's bigger than the prototype would let go of it at 100 feet. And then we would see how it would behave and gather data like that.



Tanya Gupta

So that was a cool opportunity. I learned a lot from it. Like I said, it was my first time working on an engineering project. But the coolest thing I think about working on that was that the very first prototype model ever made was signed by every intern that ever worked on the project over the course of several years.



Tanya Gupta

And then that signed copy of that prototype was sent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. So, one day I hope to see my autograph in the museum hanging somewhere.



Megan Luedke

After she left her internship at NASA in California and with her background in virtual reality, she landed another internship during her time at NYU in 2018. And that summer, she started at Kennedy Space Centre in Merritt Island, Florida.



Tanya Gupta

The augmented and virtual reality lab there was relatively new, but it was a small team. It was just like free interns and our mentor. And we had like a motion capture studio where we did a lot of testing, and we had every single kind of VR headset you could dream of. So, it was it was a blast.



Tanya Gupta

It was a fun time. So, the project that I was working at Kennedy was called the Rapid Model Import Tool. So, it's a 3D model conversion tool that optimizes models to bring into virtual reality. So, if I want to break this down a little bit, most 3D software creates a 3D model is either using a polygon-based system or a mesh-based system.



Tanya Gupta

So, a lot of engineering 3D software is polygon based, which means if you take a cross-section of a 3D object, you will probably see its internal organs and like see internal surfaces. And it contains all that data for you. Now, mesh-based 3D models are what you see more often in animation, in gaming. It's like that thing when you get too close to an object in some, like earlier 3D role fighting games, that would be kind of cut off.



Tanya Gupta

And then you would be in this like empty space because there's no geometry inside. It's just a surface representation. So, the optimized type of 3D models for VR is the animation one. Its mesh based, it's a surface representation, it's not internal geometry. But for Nassar, a lot of its 3D models that it just has for like every single project ever done it.



Tanya Gupta

Nassar is the engineering type of 3D model. So, they were trying to develop these tools to, you know, maybe show a potential client some hardware that NASA has created. But in VR now they already have a super detailed 3D model of that. But how do we quickly optimize that to bring into VR without like, you know, taking up all the rendering power?



Tanya Gupta

So that was the tool that we created on our small team. I'm not a software engineer. I'm not a coder, but I wore a lot of different hats in other ways and the people that I was working with were the coders. And yeah, we kind of developed this tool that in a few clicks with very minimal effort, you would get the output that you desired.



Tanya Gupta

And we filed for a patent for that too. So, a big takeaway from working on Kennedy for just about four or five months was that I walked away with a patent with Nassar. I did a lot of administrative stuff on the project, but when it came to hands on stuff, I was kind of like a trouble-shooter. So, I was the only person on the team who had a lot of familiarity with 3D software.



Tanya Gupta

Because I'm a mechanical engineer, so I did a lot of CAD computer aided design and I'm familiar with all that software. So, there was an adjacent team in our building that belonged to Boeing. It was basically a Boeing team that was working out of our offices, and we were working in conjunction with them to bring those 3D models into our tool to test it out.



Tanya Gupta

So, they were supplying us with like files to test our product with. And so, my job was then to do the troubleshooting to bring those files in and then to manipulate them in the 3D software for Boeing and then, you know, kind of determine what was working and what wasn't.



Megan Luedke

And you might be wondering what virtual reality has to do with space exploration, with the new and emerging technologies today and companies like Medea beginning to dabble in the metaverse and with NASA's goals to go to Mars, you might just think that maybe they're using VR to give astronauts on long duration flights a way to relax or mentally escape from their day to day.



Megan Luedke

On the long journey to Mars. And although that might be $1,000,000 idea, that's not exactly what NASA's planning on doing with VR. NASA has been thinking about the applications of VR long before the metaverse came to be. Back in the nineties, NASAs started to dabble with astronaut training at Armstrong Flight Research Centre. And today they have an entire section dedicated to astronaut training and VR.



Tanya Gupta

What they'll do is one example was that they would give you like an oxygen mask, but I think instead of giving you oxygen, it has like less oxygen than you're used to. So, it's supposed to mimic like you being at a high elevation. And then at the same time you also have this headset and then you're also strapped into this like kind of harness that mimics that feeling of flight.



Tanya Gupta

So, it's just interesting. They find different ways, you know, to prepare people to go into space or even into flights. But it's still happening to this day, and they're finding different ways to do that.



Megan Luedke

After graduating in 2019 and throughout the COVID 19 pandemic, while working at IBM, she began looking for more ways to actively seek out creative opportunities for herself by learning Photoshop and exploring photo manipulation. And eventually she learned about Adobe's creative residency program.



Tanya Gupta

I tried to follow other artists that were making the kind of art that I liked. So, like photo manipulation is kind of this overarching term, but it's digital compositing taking elements of different images and juxtaposing them in one place to make it look like one cohesive piece. So, I found this artist, Emily Soaks, based in Germany, you know, so this would have been 20, 20, and she herself had been an Adobe creative resident, I think maybe the cohort the year before or something like that.



Tanya Gupta

So, she had talked about her experience, and I was like, oh, this is cool. Like, it's an incubator for people who come from all different backgrounds. And since I don't have a design background, this is still something that I could potentially try. So that's how I learned about it. It was just from like building a community of other like-minded artists.



Megan Luedke

Prior to 2020, Adobe hired on a variety of creatives and artists each year in this program. They helped promote the Adobe products, all while working on personal passion projects sponsored by Adobe. They have since changed the way the program works and is experimenting with new ways of helping as many creatives as possible. The Adobe Creative Residency takes a very personalized and individual approach to each successful applicant to help them succeed in their role.



Tanya Gupta

I guess Photoshop would be the team that I am most closely affiliated with simply because most of my work is in Photoshop. I'm most proficient in Photoshop, and the network of people that I connect with creatively also are usually Photoshop users. But in the process of being a resident, I've had the fortune of like learning a lot of different Adobe products.



Tanya Gupta

So, one great thing is that, you know, when you're a resident, you have creative cloud, and they give you access to all the different software, and you can kind of try your hand at that. So, I started using the Adobe 3D software. They also have 3D modelling software. They have Adobe Substance, Adobe Stager. I also taught myself how to use Premiere Pro about like maybe 20 years too late because where have I been?



Tanya Gupta

You know, they have the augmented reality development platform, Adobe Aero. So, I have kind of branched out into all these different teams and learned more from them and done demos with them. But at the core of it, I would say Photoshop is the one that I'm most closely affiliated with.



Jens Bringsjord

Tania has some very clear advice for creatives who also have an analytical side to them.



Tanya Gupta

So, you know, I kind of touched upon this before, but faking it till you make it is super important. Pushing through that imposter syndrome and believing in yourself like unequivocally that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve even when it feels like it's a pipe dream, it is so much more powerful than people realize. Like people can laugh at the concept of manifestation, but fundamentally, if you can envision something happening to you or like a dream or a goal for yourself, it just brings you that much closer to realizing that dream because it breaks down.



Tanya Gupta

The barrier of this is impossible and you just start chipping away at it a little bit at a time, and then suddenly it becomes something that you can reach. So that's like a super abstract metaphor, but it applies to like all aspects of life, career, personal, like love, life, everything. It's just if you imagine, like, the most amazing thing.



Tanya Gupta

Reach for the stars and you land on the moon. I think the dream for me is to be able to combine all those things into one. Whether that means doing something creative at NASA or going back to the space industry, being a creative technologist like it could look like a lot of different things. But I'm a major advocate for keeping my options open and like making sure that I have lots of different potential avenues that I can take.



Tanya Gupta

So, who knows? You know, I could end up completely abandoning my engineering career and focusing only on design and art, or I could end up finding a way to combine the two. Or I could just completely leave the creative discipline and go back to engineering to I really could see it going one of any number of ways. And whatever happens, like I truly, honestly believe that I will be happy with whatever it is, whatever life will lead me to.



Tanya Gupta

It'll. It'll be good.



Megan Luedke

The way in which Tonya has an appetite for both analytical and creative fields is truly unique. It not only shows that we as creatives can and should take another approach to our work and understand better the inner workings for the science and engineering community. But it also proves that by keeping an open mind, we will learn new things about ourselves that we may not have otherwise explored.



Jens Bringsjord

Make sure you keep your options open. Understand what it is you are looking for in your life and explore a new side of what may not have otherwise been explored. You never know where life will take you if you simply shift your perspective about the world.



Megan Luedke

To learn more about Tanya Gupta, you can visit her website.

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