Emerson College's VR Filmmaking Class is Preparing Students to Lead the Industry

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Emerson College's VR Filmmaking Class is Preparing Students to Lead the Industry

Emerson College recently launched a groundbreaking virtual reality filmmaking class at its Los Angeles based campus. This is a good sign for the growing VR industry, as more film schools are starting to offer VR filmmaking courses to inspire students to work toward being leaders in the field. Following Emerson’s launch in January, New York University held its first VR class at their Tisch School of the Arts taught by Saschka Unseld, the creative director at Oculus Story Studio.

The Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) class launched in January during the Spring semester of their Los Angeles “Study Abroad” program for junior and senior students. Micah Wright, who has written and designed almost 50 video games, like Call of Duty: Black Ops II and has worked in film, television and comic books, teaches the class of about 10 students. Wright believes the emergence of virtual reality is the next step for both the video game and film industry.

“The marketplace for VR is coming and Emerson College understands that,” he says. Wright first proposed the course to Kevin Bright, ELA Vice President and Founding Director, and Dr. Mikhail Gershovich, ELA Director of Academic Planning and Digital Learning.

“This course presented a timely opportunity for us to pilot something truly innovative and unique that could have a tremendous impact on the College and our students going forward,” Gershovich said in an article announcing the program’s launch. “Because the language of narrative storytelling in VR is only just beginning to emerge, this course offers our students a chance to contribute meaningfully to the development of a new art form—and that’s rare and exciting.”

The VR filmmaking class is designed for students to explore live action filmmaking for virtual reality headsets. The program provides the students with necessary software and equipment, teaching them how to create 360-degree spherical films so they are able to leave the class with content and experience to add to their portfolio. In a growing, yet somewhat small industry like VR, any experience will help students break in, and companies are looking for up and coming talent.

Jack Siberine, a senior at Emerson pursing a degree in directing, says the class has provided a good mix of hands-on learning and group discussion about the latest technology and future of the industry.

“Right now we’re working on our third short film. I’ve learned how to operate a multi-camera shooting rig, how to stitch and edit using software and, honestly, it’s all very cumbersome because there aren’t any rules that have defined how to do things yet,” he says. “But the class is great because, not only do we shoot and edit our own projects, but it also allows us to talk about different technology trends, where we think the industry is going and debate about which VR headset we think is the best.”

After experiencing the class, Siberine wishes he could change his major, stating he’s made a shift in his career to focus solely on VR filmmaking.

It’s amazing to see how fast colleges like Emerson are adjusting to this avenue for students to pursue because VR technology hasn’t really been adapted until the last year or two. Back in the 90s, there was a bit of an interest in VR, but neither the technology nor content producers really existed to push the industry forward. Siberine thinks the timing is better now, noting he views the VR industry as more of a community since it’s not a huge market yet.

“Once the market for VR becomes more well-defined, it’ll be like a land grab situation,” Siberine says. “But, for now, everyone working in VR is on the same team because we all want it to be successful. There is very rarely a communal aspect to “competing companies” and it’s great to see that in VR.”

Siberine has access to software and VR equipment through the Emerson program, which he describes as “basically a rig and, a bunch of GoPros.” For those interested in producing a VR film, Siberine says it’s refreshing to see more grants and opportunities being presented, such as the Wevr Transport technology or the Oculus LaunchPad program. This is another good sign for the industry, as more grants and companies are reaching out to content producers, knowing they need people to make VR so it takes off in the next couple of years.

For anyone interested in a career in VR filmmaking, Siberine suggest taking a class if you have access to one, noting it’s a great starting point to learn how to use VR technology. Moreover, he says now is the best time to explore VR because it’s so fresh and companies are likely looking for new, young and creative people to pioneer the industry.

“I feel a little weird telling people to get into VR because it could flop,” he says. “But last year there was $13 billion in funding and there’s already been $5 or $6 billion this year, which already points toward a growing industry.”

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