Professional Development
AR / Education / VR

This Drexel professor says we’re nearing immersive reality’s ‘coming of age’

Nick Jushchyshyn contributed visual effects work to films like “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Now he's running a weekly show about VR.

Nick Jushchyshyn (far right) in an immersive photo. (Courtesy photo)'s Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The March 2017 topic explores augmented and virtual reality. See AR/VR coverage from all five of our East Coast markets here.

How many college professors do you know with an IMDb profile page?

Drexel University professor Nick Jushchyshyn, 46, has one. No matter how much of a film snob you are, odds are you’ll recognize at least one of the titles he’s worked on as part of the visual effects team: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Road.”

But after a ten-year run working for the film industry — both in Hollywood and from Philly, in 2012 he joined Drexel’s Digital Media Department. As it turns out, much of the techniques he learned for on-camera effects are actually closely related to an even more intriguing world: virtual reality.

“When I worked on ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ we were shooting what today would be considered virtual-reality photos of the set so that we could use that to create the visual effects we were doing for the film,” he said.

That skill set has led Jushchyshyn to oversee projects like this immersive documentary by grad student Valentina Feldman that brings a dinosaur back to life. His latest project is a weekly show about VR and 360-degree video, being shot in — wait for it — 360-degree video. Look out for the first episode in the series coming out in April, featuring guests from local studios Monogram and Klip Collective.

When asked about what’s the next frontier of application for VR, the Upper Darby native won’t pick one specific field. But he will say that, though most VR experiences you have access to today may have the occasional glitch or an overall unfinished look, that’s starting to change over time.

There's no established hub of VR yet.

“All of these technologies are at the cusp of their coming of age,” said the scholar. “At the beginning of television, it was basically crap: they were these huge expensive boxes with tiny little screens and they didn’t sound very good. But it was a new technology that people were really starting to figure out. That’s the stage of this form of media: it’s still kind of expensive and not the quality that we’d like it to be, but the technology is being developed at a very rapid rate.”

Indicators of VR quality like amount of pixels onscreen, frame rate and texture — according to Jushchyshyn— are technological hurdles that will continue to improve over time.

And as the industry develops, the field is open for cities from all over the world to establish themselves as “the” VR town, the professor said.

“At this early stage, there’s an open opportunity for almost any city that’s able to come and claim a stake,” Jushchyshyn said. “It’s not like trying to make a film industry town out of Philly when there’s already L.A. There’s no established hub of VR yet.”

For Philadelphia specifically, the scholar said, there’s a wealth of potential in tying together the culture, history and tourism capital with augmented reality techniques (Visit Philly already took a crack at that.)

“And I’d like to give a plug here for Drexel,” said the professor. Just this once, Nick. “At Drexel we already have deep experience within our faculty,” he said. “We have entire classes focusing on immersive plus a pretty active VR student group.”

Companies: Drexel University

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