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Landscape Architecture Alum's VR Skills Land Him a Job at San Rafael Studio

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Academy alumnus Youngwook Jason Jeon presenting his work to LAN students. Photo by Bob Toy.

It’s no wonder Academy of Art University School of Landscape Architecture alumnus Youngwook Jason Jeon (M.F.A. ’16) landed a job right after graduation. His portfolio includes something landscape architecture firms don’t often see (not yet anyway)—a virtual reality experience depicting an urban park he designed for his Master’s thesis.

After submitting a cover letter, resume and portfolio to 10 different companies, Jeon waited to see what kind of response he would get. The next morning, replies from three firms were waiting in his inbox, including one from a Marin County-based studio called VITA Planning and Landscape Architecture. Applying the old adage “first come, first served,” he went with them.

“The person who interviewed me asked, ‘What is your passion? What is the most important thing for landscape architecture?’ I answered with a simple sentence ‘to make people happy.’ This is the reason why I chose virtual reality, I like to impress people and make them happy. He liked that answer. Then I showed him my virtual reality project. He was so surprised,” Jeon explained.

The timing was right for both parties. VITA was in the midst of preparing a competition entry for a massive project designing a resort on a private island off the coast of Colombia for one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires. With one week to go before the deadline, they brought Jeon in to create an immersive VR experience.

“I only had five days, so I made it very simple—ocean, waterfall, I put some sounds in like the sounds of seagulls, the waterfall and people talking at the bar,” explained Jeon. “When my boss got back from presenting it, he said the client was really impressed by being able to see inside and we won the project. It’s all about communication. With VR, the client can really understand what the designer has in mind.”

Recently, Jeon came back to the Academy to present his work to current LAN students. He explained how during his time at the Academy, he first focused on finishing the required LAN coursework during his first two years, and then moved over to the School of Game Development where he spent the next two years focusing on learning software like Maya and Unreal Engine—tools he needed to construct the three dimensional atmosphere inherent in his thesis.

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Academy of Art University School of Landscape Architecture alumnus Youngwook Jason Jeon and Director Heather Clendenin. Photo by Bob Toy.

He showed the students how landscape architects can use these kinds of tools to create customized vegetation, changing the size, shape, color and texture of trees or other plantings. He also demonstrated another aspect he enjoys about the process—creating characters by customizing face shape, skin tone, and body movements. 

“For the clients you can change the material really quickly in real time. You just plug it in, drop it in and it changes automatically,” he said. 

Being able to make changes to a design in real time is one of the biggest benefits of building an immersive experience for clients, according to Jeon. He also emphasized the value of autonomy, giving the client the opportunity to virtually explore the space on his or her own terms. 

“When you make a two dimensional presentation board, it’s the designer who is guiding the client, the client is using his imagination to see what it is, but if the client has autonomy, he or she can explore independently. It can be very clear and understandable and you don’t have to explain a lot. They just walk in and explore and maybe they’ll say, ‘This is too high’ or ‘This is too low,’ or ‘This is not where I want the street light.’ I can just move it right away. You can save a lot of time and cost.”

Students like Rong “Ivy” Sui were impressed by Jeon’s presentation and expressed interest in developing their own VR skills. “I think it’s really useful for my career,” said Sui. “Time is important for landscape architects and this will help save a lot of time. He used a very smart way to transfer landscape architecture to game design and present the final result to the client. I’m interested in learning how to do it.”

Sui and her fellow landscape architecture students as well as students from the schools of architecture and interior architecture and design will have the opportunity to do that next semester.

“Your project impressed so many people that the Academy is considering starting a virtual reality lab for the students of landscape architecture, architecture and interior design,” said School of Landscape Architecture Director Heather Clendenin. “The value of what you have shown has made a huge impact. We’re going to try to get this guy as an instructor.”