James Egan: How I can provide AAU students with the best VR education in the World

AAU Crew (Photo by AAU)

We all have had a moment when a clip of video, a sudden rise in melody, or a line in a short poetry suddenly hits the bottom of your heart. You feel that unexplainable emotion as if something is very far yet incredibly close. That’s how James Egan, a professor at Academy of Art University, reacted to his first VR experience when an AAU graduate, Alex Pearce, now a producer at Jaunt VR, brought him a tour they did in virtual reality in the city of Jerusalem. “I put the headset on and there I was, standing in the city of Jerusalem, thousands of years old. Looking around at these ancient ruins, I was just stunned how I was transported immediately to another world and another time. I knew right then that virtual reality was going to change everything”, Professor Egan said.

Students at AAU learning about VR (Photo by AAU)

After this memorable experience with this new technology and artform, Professor Egan immediately took a proposal to the President of the Academy of Art University, Dr. Elisa Stephens, who helped him create VR courses and move as quickly as possible in this direction. Located in San Francisco, the center of innovation in United States, top professionals from notable companies such as Jaunt VR and Oculus were brought in to teach these courses. And without much effort to publicize the classes, 24 students took their first VR class last summer. The student population continues to express enthusiasm for the VR industry as later classes also filled up right away.

Professor Egan giving a presentation (Photo by AAU)

As an award-winning writer-producer, James Egan has accumulated a great deal of insights and experience and has made many successful documentaries. He shared a story of producing a film, Angels in the Dust, investigating the orphan crisis in Africa. Professor Egan and his crew lived in an orphanage with 500 children who lost their parents because of AIDS. If given the chance to remake the film, he would love to make it in virtual reality, for it’s a better medium in showing the viewers the amazing landscape in Africa. Virtual reality can immerse you in the desperate situations of those children, so you might have much more empathy and feelings for them. This is a perfect example in virtual reality and the importance it brings: creating empathy for difficult subject matters. As he described: “The location of the film is as important as the subject matter. It can’t just be the subject matter.”

VeeR‘s Chris speaking at VR Summit 2016 (Photo by AAU)

Professor Egan has been in discussions with Google about creating a virtual reality illustration class where students learn how to paint or illustrate inside Tilt Brush. Art is going to change dramatically since artists will no longer be in front of their artworks but rather be inside them. In fact, one of their students have already won a regional competition for Tilt Brush illustration.

Audience at VR Summit using VeeR’s cardboard (Photo by AAU)

Other than planning the Tilt Brush course, the Academy of Arts University (AAU) recently plans to offer a certificate of VR, called the Certificate of Immersive Media and Virtual Reality. Students need to take 3 courses per semester and after one year they can obtain this certificate. AAU’s program is certainly a very good news for those who are interested in pursuing VR related fields because they will have access to the best resources. For example, GoPro is bringing in a new class called VR Extreme Sports using their newly developed camera, the GoPro Fusion. A top GoPro executive will be one of the professors for this class.

AAU’s professor lecturing on VR equipment (Photo by AAU)

The Academy of Arts University has been hosting VR Summits for the past two years to bring in like-minded people who share an interest in the VR and AR fields. The VR Summit is a way for the university to offer free education on this new medium that is going to change the world as much as the cell phone. The second intention derives from the fact that most of the people in the industry are so busy in their own little laboratories. Therefore, this event gave these tech people chance to see the fun, creative activities which AAU’s students can bring to their technology. “This new VR technology is really not useful without content. People want content. At the Academy of Art, we are content creators. At VR Summit we bring the artists together with the technologists, which we hope will inspire people to create great virtual reality content.”

AAU’s interactive VR experience (Photo by AAU)

It’s important to Professor Egan that his Academy of Art students acquire skills in this new medium of VR, to be ready for the tremendous job opportunities that are emerging now.

Originally published at veer.tv on June 20, 2017.