The ability of students in Lipscomb University’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts to access the latest technology as part of their educational experience is becoming a reality -- or rather a virtual reality -- as the institution is the first university in the nation to purchase the Positron Voyager, the first chair designed specifically for fully immersive cinematic virtual reality (VR).
In addition to Lipscomb, other permanent locations in the exclusive Voyager global network for the chair are Disney StudioLab, Universal, Dreamworks, Animation, Technicolor, the POD Hotel in New York City and at the MK2 VR center in Paris.
The chair gives students in Lipscomb’s undergraduate and graduate film programs an opportunity no other student in the country currently has. Last month, the chair was installed in Lipscomb’s Bill and Dot Mullican Studio, providing budding filmmakers a unique opportunity to experience the sensation of movement and an immersive cinematic experience.
“This is the latest technology in cinematic storytelling and it gives our students the opportunity to experience it first-hand as they are developing their skills and approach to their craft,” said Steve Taylor, director of Lipscomb’s School of Theatre and Cinematic Arts. “It will also prepare them for what’s next in the industry. Virtual reality has been in existence for a while, but the development of the Positron Voyager is taking this technology to the next level.”
Taylor, who has a long career as a musician and as a film director, co-writer and producer whose latest project was directing “Blue Like Jazz,” said the chair takes storytelling to a new level. “It not only allows students to experience VR, but to produce stories in that medium.”
“The Positron Voyager is the first time I've experienced VR as a director’s medium,” he said. “All the VR I'd tried out prior involved putting on the headset and wandering around a defined space. This allows us to tell a story in VR with a beginning, middle and end. The chair offers storytellers precise control, as it rotates and tilts to direct the viewer’s field of vision while providing a remarkably realistic sense of movement.”
Taylor said along with the chair, the School of Theatre and Cinematics Arts has purchased 360-degree cameras that students will use to produce content, such as a VR campus tour. The VR technology will be incorporated into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum through courses in producing, storyboarding, production & technology research.
“We’re not wasting any time with this — we already have grad students working on original content for our Voyager,” said Melissa Forte, chair of the cinematics arts program. “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road. We want to be part of the steamroller.”
Positron CEO Jeffrey Travis was on-hand for the chair installation on the Lipscomb campus last month, where he also met with a gathering of film students who had the opportunity to be among the first to test-drive the Voyager and learn more about the future of cinematic VR.
“This offers these students a very hands-on vision of what cinematic VR looks and feels like,” said Travis. “To me it’s giving them a mini-screening room for cinematic VR in a way that you would not be able to get with a VR headset. I hope it will inspire some young filmmakers who really want to embrace this medium and who will want to make content for it.”
Travis said that while a number of colleges across the nation are using VR for research, only a few have started to incorporate VR into their film programs, and no other college has made an investment into the type of immersive VR technology the Positron Voyagerâ provides.
“VR is still in its early days. It’s exciting because it’s reminiscent of the early turn of the century with cinema, where we are making the ‘rules’ for a new form of storytelling,” Travis continued. “It’s significant for those in academia to take the step to look at this medium and experiment.”
Mike Fernandez, dean of the George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts, said blending cutting-edge technology and media into the curriculum is the college’s “research.”
“Lipscomb University is now a research-level university, as such we do research throughout the institution,” he said. “Giving our students the opportunity to learn in this way is research. It also gives a prime opportunity for faculty and students from other academic disciplines on campus to do research on the impact of this technology. So, it’s much more than students just making content. It’s a platform that we are learning to use, but we are also studying it.”
Five years ago when the college was founded, Fernandez said his goal was for the CEA to be seen as a leader in entertainment education.
“I want us to be a pioneer in innovative research going into the entertainment industry,” he said. “This is one giant step for us in that area. I love that we have this partnership with Positron and will work together to prepare our students to be leaders and pioneers in this field.”
This is the latest announcement from the CEA this fall. In August, university officials announced the launch of a unique hospitality studies program to meet workforce needs in the growing tourism and hospitality industries in Nashville and nationwide. Lipscomb’s program is one of the few in the country to offer a multidisciplinary approach to hospitality education. Through a collaboration of its George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts, College of Business, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, Lipscomb’s program is strategically designed as an integrated curriculum that will provide students a foundation in business practices such as management, marketing and leadership; an in-depth study of entertainment disciplines, industries and production; food and beverage; and event planning to give students a holistic approach to hospitality studies. The program will offer undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as professional certificates and will have four areas of emphasis: lodging, food and beverage, tourism and entertainment.
In April, the university broke ground on a 33,000-square-foot George Shinn Event Center. The new facility is designed to house a grand, two-story lobby, a large patio area that may also be used for a variety of events, and a state-of-the-art event hall that can seat up to 1,000 people and be used for a variety of functions including music concerts, theatrical events, art exhibits as well as receptions, class lectures, corporate events and dinners. It will also include a welcome center for the university and the administrative home of the CEA as well as a film production studio and a CG animation studio.
Lipscomb’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts is the institution’s fastest-growing college with more than 400 majors. It offers undergraduate degrees in film production, fashion merchandising, fashion design, entertainment design, music composition, contemporary music, vocal performance, piano performance, instrumental performance, teaching, music, acting, directing, musical theater, theater ministry, theater teaching, studio art, graphic design, art therapy, visual arts administration, visual arts teaching and animation among other areas of study. Graduate programs include Master of Arts degrees in film and creative media, Master of Fine Arts degrees in film and creative media with writer and director tracks and a Master of Fine Arts/Master of Business Administration blended degree. For more information visit cea.lipscomb.edu.