Faculty Spotlight: Mike Beene, Visual Studies

Mike BeeneMike Beene is an adjunct faculty member in LIM’s Visual Studies department. Since joining the College, Mike has infused the LIM curriculum with an innovative technological edge. Using his experience as a programmer, 3D artist, and founder of his own virtual reality design company, he is teaching LIM students about the use of 3D visualization tools in the context of fashion and business.

What do you emphasize in your teaching?
I try to make learning about technology as accessible as possible and show that it doesn't take an incredible amount of skill to be able to express your ideas with computers. I teach 3D Digital Design, which combines computer software class and a design studio. I think teaching design and software side-by-side is beneficial since, in the end, it’s what you create, rather than how you created it, that’s more important.

What’s your professional area of focus?
I studied architecture as an undergrad and in grad school and worked for a variety of firms, doing everything from houses to university master plans. I took an early interest in 3D modeling and computer programming, mostly stemming from my high school days when I aspired to be a videogame designer. When the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset was released, I was so fascinated with the technology I left my architecture job to work at a tech startup creating VR software. In 2016, I started my own company, Paragram, where I create custom VR experiences for real estate, architecture, and branding.

How are you incorporating VR technology into your class?
We use VR headsets in 3D Digital Design to view students’ work in full-scale virtual reality. VR gives you the advantage of perceiving the scale and placement of objects around you, which is really important to get right in store or exhibit design. It’s the closest thing to a real-life preview of your design that you can get.

Can you tell us about the application of some new technologies in fashion?
There are many examples of designers using technology to create new forms or allow for new levels of customization in fashion. A project I really like is the Kinematics Dress by Boston-based Nervous System. They created an online tool where you could design a garment to fit your exact measurements. Then their system would 3D print it for you out of thousands of interconnected plastic pieces. Projects like this are speculative in nature, but point to an exciting future for fashion production.

Mike Beene outdoorsHow do you see the fashion industry evolving in the coming years?
I think mass-customization, the ability to produce highly customized products at large volume, is a big shift that's taking hold. I can imagine a future where every garment is made to order and based not on two or three measurements, but perhaps on hundreds of variables related to the person wearing it. We could also see “smart” textiles that record our biometric data, or new mushroom-based leathers that reduce our ecological impact. Whatever innovations occur, I think fashion is the perfect medium to explore and discuss the relationship between people and emerging technology.

How would you categorize LIM students’ interest in visual studies?
I feel like there’s a blossoming of creative energy happening at LIM right now. I’m continually impressed with the level of enthusiasm I see in my students’ work. They’re eager to show New York—and everywhere else—that there’s more to LIM College than people might think.

How would you describe LIM students in general?
They’re creative, professionally focused, and fashion-forward! Most of my students have jobs or internships, so in addition to learning new concepts in the classroom, they want to understand how and when these concepts will be relevant in their work.