Introducing the summer 2016 Viacom VR Fellows

Five new virtual reality storytelling prototypes coming soon

All ready for a summer of virtual reality experimentation and prototyping in New York City. Top row (left to right): Bryan Collinsworth, Parsons; Rob Ruffler, Viacom; Amy Chen; NYC Media Lab. Bottom row (left to right): Tomonari Michigami, SVA; Rosalind Paradis; Parsons; Michelle Senteio, NYU; Raul Carvajal, NYU.

Virtual reality is a new medium that draws from the best of many disciplines and techniques such as art, engineering, animation, and game design.

This summer, NYC Media Lab presents the Viacom VR Fellowship with Viacom’s New Experience Team (NEXT). Six fellows from four NYC campuses have been selected to challenge themselves about what works best in VR for their unique storytelling ideas.

The Fellowship is Viacom’s second seed project with NYC Media Lab. The Outrage Machine big screen interactive storytelling project with NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) was the first project Viacom completed. Seed projects are structured for NYC Media Lab corporate members to plug into the cutting-edge talent and research taking place across NYC’s universities.

Viacom NEXT, led by Chaki Ng, with Rob Ruffler and David Liu, is focusing intensely on VR, so the Fellowship is a way to foster a sharing of techniques with young talent from local NYC universities where there is tremendous interest and enthusiasm for rapid prototyping in VR. NYC Media Lab sourced applications from campuses ranging from Columbia Engineering and NYU Courant to Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. Ultimately, Viacom selected six Fellows to participate.

Meet and greet at the kickoff meeting for the Fellowship.

Over the next eight weeks, the Fellowship will include access to cutting-edge VR gear like the HTC Vive, connections to Viacom mentors from divisions like Nickelodeon and Paramount, and regular show-and-tell feedback sessions.

Meet the Fellows!

Bryan Collinsworth

Parsons School of Design, MFA Design + Technology

Hometown: Claremont, California

How I got started in VR: I began developing in VR through the MFA Design and Technology program at Parsons. Shout-out to Robert Yang for teaching a fantastic VR class there, which I then got to TA for the following year.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: Two things I know about VR: One, everyone’s really excited about it; and two, no one’s quite figured out how to deliver on that excitement. This is a great moment to be trying to solve that second challenge, and New York is an especially great place to do it because there’s such a strong creative community here. At the end of the day, I think the technical side of VR will keep improving, but the real determinant of the medium’s success will be if and how creative people put it to use.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: This is a great opportunity to build a fully fleshed-out VR experience, while honing my storytelling, game design and technical abilities all at the same time.

Story idea for the Fellowship: The experience I’m developing — tentatively titled “Room 1206” — all takes place in a single hotel room. But each day, the room has different guests, with different stories that can be uncovered through the explorations of the player.

Technologies I will prototype with: Unreal Engine 4 and HTC Vive.

Rosalind Paradis

Parsons School of Design, MFA Design + Technology

Hometown: Brookline, MA

How I got started in VR: I began creating experiences for VR while taking a course called Recursive Reality at the Parsons School of Design.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: In NYC there’s a quickly growing VR design community of media professionals, writers and design academics, which means there are more opportunities to demo, show and experience new work in VR.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: Through this fellowship, I want to expand on my past work in VR/AR and experiment with how a narrative story can be created through interaction design.

Story idea for the Fellowship: My project continues a theme in my past VR work of childhood nostalgia. The project focuses on the perspective of a child being pushed in a stroller by an unknown entity. Through interaction with the environment the user learns about their relationship to other characters and tests the limits of their power within this world.

Technologies I will prototype with: I’ll be working with Unity 3D and the HTC Vive.

Michelle Senteio

New York University, NYU Game Center

Hometown: My father was in the military so, even though I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, I consider Portsmouth, Rhode Island to be my hometown.

How I got started in VR: After I tried out the HTC Vive at Magnet, I decided to take Virtual Reality Studio with Robert Yang in my second semester at the Game Center. I was hooked by how immersive VR experiences were and wanted to learn as much as I could about the medium, its infinite possibilities, and possible socio-cultural impacts.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many people that are interested in VR development in NYC. I’m very excited to be apart of the burgeoning VR community as we all experiment to understand the medium.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: With the support and access from the Viacom VR Fellowship, I hope to learn more about VR technology and further expand my knowledge and perspectives on the medium. I am most interested in interaction with VR space that engages the hands and tracks the user’s motion, because I believe that such engagement deepens the immersion. By the end, I would like to have a better understand of how storytelling can be utilized in VR in a way that enhances both the narrative and interactive experience.

Samuel Von Ehren

New York University, NYU Game Center

Hometown: Newport Beach, CA

How I got started in VR: I took Robert Yang’s Virtual Reality Studio class at the NYU Game Center. I’ve always been interested in perception in games and VR is a natural way to play with that.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: Because VR is so impactful, lots of institutions are trying to figure out how best to use this new technology. Exploring new techniques for utilizing and to some extent inventing the field is extremely exciting to me.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: I’m excited to work with the HTC Vive. Being able to walk around and manipulate objects really opens up the possibility space for VR, and I hope with Viacom’s guidance I’ll be able to craft an amazing story that resonates with people.

Sam and Michelle will be working together during the Fellowship.

Story idea for the Fellowship: We’ll be creating a sort of mystery story. Players will be put in the role of a recently deceased actress trying to decipher who killed her and why.

Technologies we will prototype with: We’ll be using the HTC Vive plugged into the Unity engine.

Tomonari Michigami

School of Visual Arts, MFA Computer Art

Hometown: My hometown is Nara city in Japan. Nara is famous as one of the most historic cities in which many ancient shrines and temples are located.

How I got started in VR: Before I came to NYC, I worked at TV station in Tokyo as a VR sets designer for seven years.Through the TV production work I realized, there are many possibilities in this medium. That is how I got interested in VR.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: In NYC, people are exploring VR technology from various aspects. That is what’s most exciting about VR in NYC.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: I’m interested in how VR technology co-exists with narrative and storytelling content. I’d like to learn how the film and television industry works with this new technology. Also, I’d like to share ideas for future entertainment media.

Story idea for the Fellowship: My story idea is about the mirror. The mirror reflects the true image of the room while the clock is ringing the bell of midnight. The viewer can watch the shifting of the room in VR environments.

Technologies I will prototype with: In terms of technical challenges, I am going to try to mix the real image from a web cam with a VR environment. I’ve been exploring how people interact with each other in VR environments and share the experience. This might be a small prototype, and I hope this could lead to another project.

Raul Carvajal

New York University, Tisch School of the Arts — BFA Film & Television

Hometown: Chicago, IL

How I got started in VR: I got started in the spherical video space, making a few pieces with friends during my senior year of college at NYU.

What excites me most about VR in NYC: The community! I’ve met so many incredible people in this city that are intense in their curiosity for figuring out new storytelling methods in VR, and I have learned a lot from their unique perspectives on where this medium is headed.

What I hope to learn and gain from the Viacom VR Fellowship: Outside of the valuable resources and mentorship that are offered through the fellowship, I hope to develop/produce a piece of storytelling that elicits strong emotions and fosters some sociocultural understanding.

Story idea for the Fellowship: My piece will explore the trauma of being transported on a small 18th-century slave ship traveling in the Caribbean. I aim to create a historically accurate yet narratively engaging piece that leads to a deep emotional understanding of this dark era in our shared history.

Technologies I will prototype with: Unity and Autodesk Maya, for deployment on the HTC Vive.

For any questions on the Viacom VR Fellowship, feel free to reach out to Amy Chen, Manager of Partnerships at NYC Media Lab, at: amy.chen[at]