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Passion for Virtual Reality on Display at VR Summit

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A student tries out one of the VR headsets on display at this semester's VR Summit. Photo by Bob Toy.

At one moment, Academy of Art University students were mingling in Room 140 of the 79 New Montgomery building on the night of the VR Summit. But with one touch and one virtual reality (VR) headset, moments later, students were transported to the sandy beaches of the marina staring up at the Golden Gate Bridge, gliding through the streets of San Francisco in a cable car or interacting with a little blue alien in outer space.

“It’s life changing,” said Executive Director of Immersive Technology & Short Term Programming James Egan about the effects of VR. “It’s important for the entire university to know about this new expanding medium and the impact it’s going to have on every school here.”

The third annual summit held on April 20 was a night of endless possibilities filled with adventure, education and what’s new in the world of VR. Industry professionals from companies progressing the emerging technologies of VR, 360-degree content and augmented reality graced the stage of the theatre as audience members were fully engaged. 

Representatives from Veer, SubPac, Still Cottage Studios, animation studio Baobab and Insta 360 showed off their newest VR gadgets and content and ways in which students of the Academy can capitalize on an industry that is changing the world.

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Insta 360 got a lot of “wows” from the crowd for its newest 360-degree and VR camera which are affordable and accessible to students right now. 

Liz Rowley, founder and creative director of VR production company Still Cottage Studios and former Academy student, spoke to the crowd about VR’s penetration into industries like real estate, retail, medical and education.

“This is a whole new platform to reach consumers,” she said about branded VR content. “It allows viewers to be fully immersed in the content and feel like a part of the experience, not just watch it on TV.” 

A passion of Rowley’s is education. It’s the current topic of a project her studio is working on and is something she said VR can bring to places lacking access. This was just one of the ways Rowley mentioned how VR is changing the world.

Rowley concluded her presentation with a discussion on how to monetize VR and encouraged the crowd of students to take advantage of something every VR company has in common, being the need for content and talented people like Academy students to create it. 

Some students already have a head start. After the industry presentations in the theatre, the work of students from advanced VR classes this semester were showcased in room 140. The room was like a beehive with students in headsets, others trying out wearable technology and viewing projects from branded content to music videos.  

One group of students created a VR commercial for Ghirardelli Chocolate. The commercial took viewers on a trip through the city traveling to a new location with every bite of the main character’s chocolate.

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Students try on different headsets and test of emerging technology during the VR Summit. Photo by Bob Toy.

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Photo by Bob Toy.

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Photo by Bob Toy.

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Photo by Bob Toy.

“I’m obsessed with cutting edge technology,” said Deane Carstensen, senior and School of Motion Pictures and Television directing major, who directed the Ghiradelli commercial. “This is the next step. Filmmakers have been waiting for something new and exciting.” 

Carstensen’s VR commercial already racked up about 5,000 views on Veer, a global VR video community and one of the night’s guests.

Another aspect of VR that was showcased, was the fourth dimension of VR, or tactile immersion. Kevin Kunze a 360-degree filmmaker, showed off the SubPac, a wearable technology that pulses sound through the body in coordination with VR content. 

“I want audiences to be as engaged as possible in the experience,” said Kunze, who is also an Academy instructor of advanced VR filmmaking. “VR is the closest thing to living within a dream and tactile sensations really enhance that.”

Of the students, Academy staff and industry professionals in attendance that night, one thing was evidently clear: the passion for the power of VR. Egan spoke specifically about the drive and passion he sees in his students everyday and the incredible opportunities they have at the Academy with some of the top VR faculty in the world.

“Students have this excitement in being pioneers of this new frontier and are redefining media as we know it,” he said.