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Virtual Storytelling

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Photo by Bob Toy.

The Schools of Motion Pictures & Television and Multimedia Communications have come together in creating a new virtual reality class open to all students at Academy of Art University. This course provides students with the latest VR technology and opens a gateway to a new storytelling experience that’s sweeping the entertainment industry and Silicon Valley. 

“360 video production is the new frontier, representing a dramatic evolution of cinematic language,” said VR instructor and film director Jack Perez. “Both filmmakers and audiences are suddenly ravenous for this heightened level of immersion. We want our students to ride the crest of this new wave.”  

James Egan, executive director of Immersive Technology and Short Term Programming, and Jan Yanehiro, the director of the School of Multimedia Communications, created this course when they saw the potential for a new era of innovative storytelling and journalism. 

“There’s no doubt [that] VR is going to be as revolutionary to entertainment and communication as the invention of the cell phone,” said Egan. “According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, it will be the dominant medium through which we communicate in the very near future.”

Yanehiro echoed Egan’s enthusiasm. “360 video and virtual reality have become part of everyday broadcast viewing,” she said. “It was streamed live at both the Republican and Democratic Conventions and tested on sports fields and arenas. Plus, VR instructor Alex Pearce will be shooting a Coldplay performance in VR! It’s exciting technology and we’re glad to offer this COM/MPT class to all students. We want students to help define the new and future uses of 360 video and VR.”   

This course provides the latest VR technology, including four VR headsets, four Samsung phones with VR capability, and six Ricoh Theta VR cameras. During the fall semester, each student will be given a pair of Go4d C1 glasses, Google’s groundbreaking VR headset. Both MPT and COM look forward to how this course and its innovative technology will affect the students and their storytelling abilities. 

“After the novelty of being able to look anywhere at any moment has worn off (and it does so very quickly), all that’s left is the story being told and its level of resonance,” said Perez. “Whether narrative or journalistic, we are teaching our students how to maximize this new and powerful camera language and use it to its fullest potential.”

Students from all schools and degrees see the value in this new course. “It’s a lot of fun and especially interesting, because we’re on the brink of a new storytelling age,” said B.F.A. MPT student Daniel Mejia. “Every time I go to class, Jack and Alex have some awesome new equipment or concept to talk about. It has been an amazing experience and definitely one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever taken at [the Academy].”

M.F.A. MPT student Ali Ahmed shared Mejia’s sentiment. “I love this class. I took this class out of curiosity really and I’m glad I did,” he said. “It’s a whole new language of filmmaking in my opinion. I have some idea now of how the early filmmakers were developing their craft because it was all so new. That’s how I feel with the VR class. We’re on the frontiers of developing a new film language.”

Instructors Perez and Pearce have been highly praised as well. “I really love their open minds,” said M.F.A. MPT student Ziyang “Lucia” Wang. “VR is a new field, and they are doing really good to encourage us to try everything. Jack and Alex really make me feel that I can do anything I want, try everything I find, and they love to see that.”