Have you ever traveled through outer space as Beethoven’s Fifth, First Movement played in the background? The opportunity is coming closer and closer to Baltimore. Earlier this fall, Johns Hopkins University announced a new concentration called “Immersive Storytelling & Emerging Technologies.”
The program, to launch in January, will be the newest addition to JHU’s Film & Media Masters of Arts Program. Program director Roberto Busó-Garcia said the program will “create a space to explore some of the most pressing issues related to emerging technologies and immersive experiences as they relate to storytelling, artistic expression and social impact.”
It will be a new offering in a program that is focused on inclusivity. Hopkins’ Film and Media Master of Arts program is among the most diverse graduate programs in the country, boasting a population of nearly 70 percent women and 80 percent people of color. The new concentration will charge a third of the tuition of similar programs at New York University or University of Southern California, according to the university.
The program is being designed and led by Gabo Arora, an award-winning filmmaker and VR director, who previously served as the UN’s first Creative Director. “I began my journey in virtual reality filmmaking at the United Nations with the goal of using this new and rich storytelling medium to create for some of the world’s most pressing challenges,” he said in a statement.
Students will be given access to high-quality equipment in classes led by distinguished faculty dedicated to potential social impacts of VR.
There were already signs of the program. On Oct. 7, Johns Hopkins held a free, hands-on Immersive Media Conference to display the program’s materials to the public. The conference featured speakers such as Arora, Oculus Executive Producer of Experiences Yelena Rachitsky, Variable Labs CEO Barry Pousman and Jessica Brillhart, the principal VR filmmaker at Google.
The conference hosted an array of special VR projects available for viewing, such as Lincoln in the Bardo, a VR adaptation of George Saunders’ Man Booker prize-winning novel, and Beethoven’s Fifth, First Movement, in which viewers are transported into outer space with a performance of the melody by the Philharmonia Orchestra, London.
Johns Hopkins has previously supported projects that embrace virtual reality and other technology through a film-focused incubator, and the participants showed a desire to give voice to the unheard. The addition of the concentration is another sign that new technology is becoming an important component of the conversation around the future of filmmaking.