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This year has already witnessed a series of unprecedented events. Especially on the academic front, our institute has been on its toes since late march to ensure a smooth and inclusive transition into the new way of education. On the 23rd of August, our institute created history by organising a first of its kind e-convocation. This wasn’t just another one of those Zoom meets but a full-fledged Virtual Reality experience with 3D Avatars of 2000+ graduating students and a beautiful Virtual Campus Tour for the batch of 2020. This technological feat has received acclaim from media both in India and abroad, including CNN and has undoubtedly done our Institute proud. More importantly, this event shall stay etched in the memories of all the graduating students who took that giant leap out of college amid a global pandemic. With this article, Insight brings to you the Behind the Scenes(/Screens) of this mega event.

Convocation Ceremony

The Convocation is one of the fondest memories of graduating students as they bid adieu to the institute. To provide a memorable experience to the batch of 2020, the Director of IIT Bombay- Prof Subhasis Chaudhuri raised the possibility of recreating the ceremony virtually. The team responsible for materialising the Virtual Convocation 2020 consisted of Prof P. Sunthar (Chemical Engineering), Prof Prashant Date (Mechanical Engineering), Prof Sumant Rao (IDC), Prof Parag Chaudhuri (Computer Science and Engineering), Prof Varsha Apte (Computer Science and Engineering) and Prof Kumar Appaiah (Electrical Engineering). 

The graduating students were given guidelines about the photos, the type of background and angle. The team began working in mid-June; Some avatar creating algorithms were tried, but the avatars did not render well, and a lot of manual fine-tuning remained. So, the team decided to complete all the 3D avatars manually. Out of the 2000+ students graduating, 1500+ students submitted the photos and details in the specified format which included the front face, side face and full-body photos. Prof Sumant Rao, Prof Parag Chaudhuri and their team took the task of Creating the avatars, hand-tuning them, creating and editing videos within this short period. The team worked in close collaboration with the Convocation Organisation committee, Academic Office and Student tech teams. A very real avatar of the chief guest- Dr Duncan Haldane was also created.

Each faculty and dignitary was recorded, and the individual videos were merged into a single video. It appeared so real that there were a few complaints that IIT Bombay was not maintaining social distancing norms! This video was created using very creative video compositing; The recorded messages and talks by the chief guest, VC of Monash University and invited speakers were added to the final video, which was then broadcasted. The student avatars were delivered via android and Windows applications, loosely synchronised to become available during the live broadcast. Post the broadcast, the avatar animation links were mailed to the students.

The entire ceremony was also broadcasted on YouTube and two national channels. Prof P Sunthar took the task of managing and integrating the tasks of several disjoint teams working towards a single goal- making the Convocation 2020 unique and memorable.

Virtual Campus Tour

Every year, the convocation ceremony is followed by students roaming around the institute, visiting their favourite spots, catching up with friends, interacting with professors and so on. This year around, however, that couldn’t happen. To give the graduating students an almost similar experience, the institute organised a Virtual Campus Tour on Gather (https://gather.town) Gather is a unique video calling platform that lets you navigate on a map and interact with people as you walk around on the map. It also has the feature of creating rooms with interactive elements. The project was led by Professor Varsha Apte and the General Secretary of Technical Affairs, Anirudh Mittal with a team of about 75 students including representatives from different departments, hostels and extracurricular clubs. Conveners of the Institute technical Council, Vedant Chanadak & Bhuvan Agarwal, were responsible for smooth integration of map elements.

The team first got in touch with the founders of Gather and proposed the plan, sometime towards June end. This was followed by the creation of a digital map of the institute. There were a couple of demos and test runs with the professors and students. On receiving approval from the convocation committee, sometime in the last week of July, the plan scaled up further. Within the map, different rooms were created, which represented the various hostels, academic buildings, SAC,  Gymkhana ground and other places in the institute. With the help of hostel, department and club representatives, the maps were created, and interactive elements such as pictures and videos were incorporated in the rooms. Given that this was an absolutely new concept and project, the team did face inevitable delays and issues too. It involved coordination between 75+ representatives from various hostels, departments and institute clubs and bodies.

The virtual presence was divided into two slots starting with the first one on the eve of the convocation where different maps for different hostels were shared to keep the institute map a secret.

On the final day, the virtual tour began right after the convocation ceremony at 5 PM). The event was being monitored via a virtual control room with members from the organising team and Gather founders, to ensure a smooth run. For 45 mins at the start, the server faced some issues, but it was resolved within half an hour, and the tour resumed. It also became open to non-graduating students at around 9 PM and was undoubtedly a one of a kind experience.
Here are some interesting statistics regarding the Gather meet:

  • Maximum concurrent users: 1200
  • Maximum concurrent users streaming video: 600
  • Avg number of people each participant in the space was talking to at any point: 3.3
  • Total number of page hits: 10k+

Conclusion

While the last few months have been full of doubt, anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the future, this unique convocation came as a much-needed respite. Although nothing can match the warmth of an in-person convocation day, the efforts put in by the institute to make the day a memorable one are truly commendable!

Here’s a list of all the professors, technicians and artists who contributed to this project along with their respective roles:

Producer: P Sunthar

Concept and Direction: Sumant Rao

Event Guidance and Supervision: Prashant Date

Cinematography, Digital composition and editing: Akshay Bapat

Cinematography and editing support: Sushil P Kamble

Video Arrangements and Support: Akshay Bapat, Tarun K Negi, Adarsh Birare, Mitesh Jadyar, Balchandra Mhatre, Ramesh P Patil

Script: Falguni (Banerjee) Naha, Anjali Jayanthi Ramachandran

Archive Visuals: Falguni (Banerjee) Naha, Renuka Parab

Comperers: Sumant Rao, Aruja Khanna, Kalyani Jawdekar (Marathi)

Stage Arrangement: K R P Unnithan

Robing Arrangements: R B Sunoj, Vijay Kowe

COVID safety and sanitisation: Soumyo Mukherjee, Pankaj Bhosale

Power, Lighting and Ventilation: Rajendra Adhare, Sailendra Waghmare

Social Gathering Virtualisation: Varsha Apte, Anirudh Mittal, Vedant Chandak, Bhuvan Aggarwal

AR-VR Coordination and Guidance: Sumant Rao, Parag Chaudhuri, Tamanna Kapoor

Data Gathering and Organisation: Parag Chaudhuri, Kumar Appaiah, Prasanna Hate

3D Modelling: Vinod Pancharath, Prashanth K, Suraj Walnuj, Onkar Gangadhar Shirsekar, Shruti Pratik Chauhan

Animation: Ashutosh Harikant Parashar, Roshani Dnyaneshwar Deshmukh, Amruta Chirasmita, Ritu Mitragotri, Sneha Sanglikar

App Development: Akshay Motilal Bharwani, Cateena Biky Dbritto, Vaishnav Vishwanath, Ojas Jaywant Kadu

Procurement: Priyesh Sharad Patil, Ganesh K. Bhorkade, Manoj Barai

Gnyanam Paramam Dhyeyam, Institute Song and National Anthem: Guru S V Ramchandran (Violin), Guru Mrs Veena K. Sawale (Hindustani Vocal), Guru Mr Bhushan PArchure (Tabla), Apurv Tiwari, Ashish Pandit, G Sree Lakshmi Aditya, Panyam Sweeya Goud, Rishabh Sharaff, Rutuja K. Thakur, Ujjwal Agarwal

Chorus Direction and Mixing: Kuldip Singh Trithiya

Sitar: Soumi Haldar

Flute: Adwitiya Rao

Bass Guitar, Keys, Production: Madhur Sudarshan

The Other Side:

Guitar: Aditya Raghav Soni, Aditya Anavkar

Drums: Aditya Raghav Soni, Ajitesh Mohan

Keys: Aditya Raghav Soni, Ananda Bathena

Mix and Master: Ananda Bathena

Drums, Keys and Rap: Sudipto Banerjee

Flute: Adwitiya Rao

Bass Guitar: Madhur Sudarshan

Vocals, Acoustic Guitar: Piyush Gupta

Guitars:  Dhwaj Singhal

Tabla: Tirthick Majumder

Composed along with: Nikhil Bapat (Drums) and Aditya Dev (Guitar)

Tracked at Benchmark Studios, Thane

Recording Engineers: Ariel Samson, Subodh Gupta

Mixed and Mastered by Ariel Samson at Benchmark Studios

Special Thanks: Phani Tetali (IDC School of Design), Sridhar Iyer (CDEEP), Prasenjit Bhaumik, B K Chakravarthy, Rajkumar Upadhyay (DD Kendra, Bengaluru), Neeraj Agarwal (DD Kendra, Mumbai), Madhuri Wankhede, Accounts Section, Public Health Office