Hacking VR, 7 ways

Ever since Ivan Sutherland, PhD ’63, developed Ultimate Display in 1965—a forerunner to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) that uses tactile stimuli to mimic the physical world—MIT researchers have been engineering new forms of immersive media. Today, the MIT Open Documentary Lab (ODL) continues to expand the multisensory palette available to documentarians and other storytellers.  

In the lecture series, Hacking VR, distinguished virtual reality creators explored how the medium is evolving and what works—or doesn’t. The series complemented the course Hacking VR: Exploring Oculus and Immersive Media Production, taught by William Uricchio, Sandra Rodriguez and Deniz Tortum, SM ’16. The twelve guest speakers surveyed historical developments and current innovation in virtual reality gear, software and storytelling techniques.

“I think VR is part of a larger movement that we can call immersive entertainment,” says Arnaud Colinart. “It’s connected to the rise of television series like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones—you don’t want to leave this narrative universe.” Colinart co-produced Notes on Blindness, a VR project that developed alongside an Emmy-winning and BAFTA-nominated documentary based on philosopher John Hull’s audio diaries recounting his vision loss.  

One of the talks, “The Art and Science of VR: A Conversation between Scientists and Storytellers,” looked at Colinart’s work and Kalina Bertin’s Manic in light of the work of two researchers who explore the impact of VR on the brain: Mayank R. Mehta, professor of neurobiology and Heidi Boisvert, creative technologist and artist. The panelists addressed how VR affects our brains, how neurobiology can promote more effective storytelling and how VR can aid understanding of the body and brain. Throughout the series, several speakers predicted that VR will proliferate not only in medicine and surgical training, but in many other industries—from architecture to journalism to education.

Individual lectures focused on such topics as webVR, 360 video, interactive and mixed-reality productions, strategies and workflows for developing linear and interactive productions, advancements in research on simulator sickness and the influence of gaming trends on VR. While the speakers shared concrete techniques and tools that were particularly useful for practitioners, their specificity was anything but myopic. Rather, collectively, these lectures presented a broad vision for the medium of VR, which is radically reshaping our narrative experience. VR is unlike cinema, television or any communications platform, says Eloi Champagne. “It’s a computing platform,” which is why, he suggests, it offers so many possibilities for art and society.

Which possibility intrigues you most?  Learn more about it in one of these seven videos:


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Brian Chirls on webVR


The Art and Science of VR: A Conversation between Scientists and Storytellers


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Arnaud Colinart


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Eloi Champagne on NFB


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Karen Vanderborght


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Vincent Morisset


The Hacking VR Speaker Series: Ubisoft



Posted on November 6, 2017 by Sharon Lacey