WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- When you think of UNC School of the Arts, you might think of the Oscar, Tony and EMMY award-winning students who studied there. Or maybe it's that the Schools of Dance, Film and Drama rank as some of the best in the country. Now, the university has a new act taking center stage – virtual reality.
"We will be the pioneers in this technology."
Chancellor Lindsay Bierman calls their curriculum groundbreaking and says virtual reality is one of the most rapidly exploding industries in the world.
"Like the early days of the digital revolution, I think it's impossible to predict the impact that it will have globally," said Chancellor Bierman.
In December, Chancellor Bierman announced a $10 million gift that will establish the school's Institute for Performance Innovation.
"This will be a forward leaning laboratory for our students to really develop the next generation of virtual reality and augmented reality," said Chancellor Bierman. "This is going to radically transform the way we consume media."
"I just wanted to jump us in quickly."
Susan Ruskin, Dean of the School of Filmmaking, is the director in the immersive world of virtual reality. She challenges the students to think outside of the silver screen.
"How does the audience which is actually a person in a headset, see the movie that you are making and how can we tell stories in that space?"
It's not just about entertainment. Dean Ruskin says the future of virtual reality is limitless.
"If you think about psychology, to help people with phobias, they can confront some of the things they are afraid if," said Dean Ruskin.
She added, "You can build a CG heart and have it right in front of you while you're listening to the lecturer and he can be breaking down the aspects of the heart, and you can go to the aorta and you can travel through it."
Dean Ruskin says virtual reality can transport you to another place while still sitting in your living room.
"That's amazingly evocative. And you can emotionally be really connected even when you are not physically present," said Dean Ruskin.
It's that connection that first attracted junior Trent Spivey. He was a student in the school's first virtual reality class.
"The most exciting thing for me is that by immersing people in places that they can't otherwise go, it builds empathy, a more informed society," said Trent Spivey, student, UNC-School of the Arts.
Spivey is studying cinematography and knows virtual reality will likely be a big part of his future.
"It's a bigger jump than when cinema went to sound. I mean we really don't have a precedent for what's about to happen," said Spivey.
UNCSA is one of only 11 schools in the country chosen for the Oculus NextGen inaugural program. The partnership provides guest lecturers, hardware and exposure to the virtual reality industry.
UNCSA is planning to offer a joint master's degree in engineering and virtual reality within the next few years.
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