CalArts students develop audiovisual experience for 360-degree viewing environment

Students at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) are taking their work into new dimensions -- literally.

In an effort to pioneer new directions in immersive entertainment, the school’s advanced interactive media class gave students the opportunity to create audiovisual entertainment tailored to a 360-degree viewing environment.

The Valencia institute, founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy, is famous for its animation program. It boasts a robust roster of alumni including John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Oscar-award winner Chris Buck (“Frozen”).


The interactive media class partnered students with Vortex Immersion Media, a production, design and development company dedicated to delivering visionary immersive entertainment content. Using Vortex’s dome theater in downtown Los Angeles, students spent the last semester delving into interactive projects.

“We are looking to expand the language of cinema,” said Hillary Kapan, the course’s instructor. “Our intent was to function kind of like a think tank and see what advantages a dome can give us in creating art that you can’t create for a regular cinema. In traditional cinema, you watch and listen to a film. We have that happening but we also have interactive elements.”

The student projects “mix high and low tech techniques — ranging from game development systems that create real-time rendering in space, and live performance and music, to 2D and 3D projections, and low tech theatrical illusions,” according to the CalArts website.

Ed Lantz, president at Vortex Immersion Media, emphasized the importance of mastering such new techniques in the evolving media landscape.

“A really different storytelling language is required for immersive domes,” he said. “Film is a framed medium -- it keeps you at arm’s length to the action happening. Domes wrap around you.”

Young filmmakers are key in helping adapt cinema to new formats, Lantz said.

Jamie Tan Cheng Li, a 22-year-old CalArts student in the class, said her project “Steady in Motion” uses the dome “as an eyeball.”

“Images [in my piece] are projected onto the dome the same way we see light in our corneas,” she said. “It focuses on the actual representation of the displacement of time and space.... It’s kind of based off the saying that when we dream, our soul travels.”

Though the course ventures into uncharted territory, Li said it signifies a shift toward “the next wave of entertainment.”

Li and other students in Kapan’s class will show their final work in a presentation, titled “A Different Kind of Sky,” at the Vortex Immersion Media Dome on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 10 p.m.

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