The Immersive Storytelling Residency Program at METL

The Immersive Storytelling Residency Program at METL

Ryan Schmaltz, director at Media and Emerging Technology Lab at UNSCA School of Filmmaking, talked about a new program for artists who want to get into immersive storytelling art and shared some info about the educational process and application rules. 

About  UNCSA and METL

University of North Carolina School of the Arts (“UNCSA”) is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and is a unique and world-leading arts conservatory with programs in filmmaking, music, dance, drama, and design and production. UNCSA offers bachelor degree programs, master's degree programs and also has a high school program. From Broadway to Hollywood, UNCSA’s talented students and alumni power the creative industry.

The Media and Emerging Technology Lab  (“METL”) was started by the UNCSA School of Filmmaking in order to advance content creation and storytelling through industry partnerships and emerging technologies like virtual reality, motion capture, game engines, and augmented reality. I am the lab’s director and an early leader in immersive, who was previously an executive at Blippar, an augmented reality technology company (my bio is attached or here). Collaborating with METL are members of the School of Filmmaking faculty who have worked on the original Star Wars trilogy and other well-known popular science fiction, comedy, action films. In addition, we also engage with industry advisors who are leaders in the immersive content creation and storytelling industry.

I came up with the idea for the Immersive Storytelling Residency by looking at both the opportunities and constraints that existed in immersive content creation. I devised a program that leverages the opportunities, helps address or alleviate constraints, and provides residents with the necessary resources (such as equipment, time, expertise, partners) to define and develop an idea into something that can be experienced around the world.

About Immersive Technology

The immersive space has evolved significantly in the last three years. When I first started working in this space, it was very nascent. Most of my conversations started by me educating others about the technology, explaining why it was novel and why the specific experience I was showing them was important. There is now an exponentially greater awareness and understanding of VR and AR by the general public. This makes my job easier. Similarly, on the content side, the industry has been hard at work to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We’ve found ways to take advantage of the opportunities that this technology affords and work around its limitations.

That said, the biggest problem continues to be accessibility and distribution. We have not yet come close to hardware mass adoption or where there are enough experience centers for the general public to consume the amazing content being produced and released. This will get solved through hardware becoming more cost-effective, increasing consumer awareness, and content/games that generate buzz and create a “must-have” mindset. There have been tremendous strides in this area in the last few years, however, we still have a long way to go.

About the Immersive Storytelling Residency Program

The residents will be creating an experience that is targeted toward general audiences. The team of residents will be comprised of three people: one 3D technical artist familiar with creating 3D characters, one software developer familiar with game engines and preferably with some full-stack experience, and one screenwriter/storyteller familiar with narrative mechanics. During the application process, applicants will identify, which role they wish to apply for. We will be selecting applicants based on their demonstrated proficiency in the role they have applied to and encourage both beginners and experienced artists to apply.  

This will be a six-month paid residency where the three residents will come to Winston-Salem and work as a team to create an experience of their choosing. METL will support them throughout their journey through world-class equipment (like our Vicon Motion Capture Stage), access to industry and faculty advisors, and METL’s relationship with companies and film festivals. At the end of the six months, we will help them share their experiences with the world.

The application deadline is quickly approaching. The most important thing is the deadline of January 20th. We encourage all who are interested to apply. The residents will be selected by early February and the residency will begin in March. Anyone who is interested in applying can do so here.

As for conditions: we expect the residents to be focused 30+ hours per week on the residency, be present in Winston-Salem, NC USA for all or much of the six-month residency, and be a resident, citizen, or on the appropriate visa to legally participate in this program.  Unfortunately, at this time, we aren’t able to sponsor visas or residency considerations for international applicants.

About the Educational Process

The three residents will work together for the entire six months. This is a 100% hands-on residency. Residents learn by doing and through the support of the mentors who will provide guidance along the way. Mentors will help residents understand what is working and what isn’t, help with ideation and offer some nuanced expertise as needed along the way. The six months will be broken out by individual milestones and deliverables that enable the residents to work through pre-production, production, and post-production. Mentors will engage with residents periodically throughout the six months in-person or via video conference.

The Presentation of the Project

At the end of the six months, the three residents will have gone through the production of an immersive experience from ideation to shipping it. They’ll have learned what it takes to accomplish this, what works, what doesn’t and all of the operational and business requirements to bring a new immersive experience to life. They’ll leave with, what I hope will be, a career-defining portfolio piece. We’ll help them submit their experience to various film festivals (many of which we already have a relationship with), they’ll showcase their project at the 2020 Future of Reality Summit, and we’ll help them publish to marketplaces such as Steam and the Oculus Store. Depending on the nature of the experience the residents create, we can also help them generate press and media attention from their experience.

Ryan Schmaltz, Director at the Media and Emerging Technology Lab 

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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