Image courtesy of GRX Immersive Labs

Immersive storytelling: empowering the next generation of XR entrepreneurs

December 8, 2022
The potential of immersive content can be so limitless that once you’ve discovered it for yourself, all you want to do is empower others. This is the case for Alton Glass, who complements a career in feature films and television with cutting-edge creative technologies. He intends to share this knowledge and possibilities with a new generation of creators.

Recently, Glass’s creative technology studio, GRX Immersive, began offering a series of courses in virtual production (VP) that combines the fundamentals of Unreal Engine and VR technology with basic VP workflows.

The result is a program that enables students to start creating interactive experiences that feel tied to their creative instincts. As the weeks go on they acquire the knowledge to build a level, create landscapes, use Blueprints, animate, and sequence their stories. When it comes time for the final project, students can apply this newfound knowledge to a range of opportunities.

The power of VR education

It might sound like a drastic U-turn, but it’s no wonder Glass was so willing to embrace immersive storytelling. The technology behind these experiences gives creators a plethora of ways to express themselves, while accessing intensely personal and collective experiences. Something that is highly appealing to someone who tells stories for a living.

“Working on The March with Digital Domain really turned on the lightbulb for me,” explains Glass. Launched by TIME and Executive Producer Viola Davis in 2020, The March recreates one of the most iconic moments in American history, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. For Glass, seeing Dr. King come to life courtesy of Unreal Engine was akin to strapping on a headset and traveling back in time.

“The best part was seeing people in the VR experience walking through history, chanting, and marching and coming out crying as if they were really there in 1963 with the other 200,000 marchers,” he reflects.

Inspired, Glass embarked upon The Unreal Fellowship, a 30-day blended learning experience designed to help animation, film, and VFX professionals learn Unreal Engine. The class cemented Glass’ ambition to not only create in this exciting new medium, but to enable the next generation of creators to tell their stories with immersive technology.

“This course we’re running came from our desire to serve and inspire,” he says. “We’re passionate about creating opportunities for others and we felt this was a great tool to empower creators to become world builders and creative entrepreneurs.”
Image courtesy of GRX Immersive Labs

Visualizing stories

Today, his nine-week course is opening up new avenues for students by showing them how to move from world-building basics to scene population, using the Unreal Marketplace to accelerate the process. Mini-assignments are then spread throughout the course to help students see how Unreal Engine, VR technology, and virtual production processes come together to help them tell their story.
Image courtesy of GRX Immersive Labs
Since some of the students bring no prior immersive knowledge to the course, GRX encourages them to lead with their creative DNA and unique perspective, confident that the technical know-how will follow. Success is achieved when students start playing to their strengths. Students might not learn everything, but they’ll always walk away with enough knowledge to push an idea forward.
 

In order to complete the course, students must use Unreal Engine to create a pitch, visual storyboard, or scene from their project. Students are encouraged to draw on any transferable skills they may already possess to flesh out their ideas, the only limits are time and imagination.

"People are really inspired by Fortnite, so we've seen a lot of work playing off video game concepts. Our storytellers aren't limiting themselves, though. They've explored nearly every genre at this point, from horror and sci-fi to action and fantasy. We've even seen wonderful social impact ideas come through, including a Detroit urban planning project that showcased community design with architectural renders,” says Glass.
Image courtesy of GRX Immersive Labs
Having turned his passion for immersive storytelling into a thriving creative technology studio, Glass is well aware that technical ability alone won’t always guarantee success in the industry. That’s why the course also aims to teach students creative entrepreneurship, giving them the skills they need to set up a business or become self-employed in the creative industries.

“We explore various industry sectors beyond film, TV, and gaming, and how students can apply their skills to those industries,” notes Glass. “Museums, medical, retail, urban development—there’s a lot of opportunities out there right now. Sometimes students just need to think outside the box.”
Image courtesy of GRX Immersive Labs

Expanding 3D storytelling

The ambition isn’t limited to teaching more students in the US how to utilize immersive storytelling, one of GRX’s main missions is to increase the diversity in this area of emerging technology. By encouraging a variety of backgrounds and perspectives on the course, and partnering with programs like Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, Handy Foundation, and National Urban League, Glass intends to contribute to more diverse talent, teams, and leadership across the XR industry.

It’s an ambition that spreads to Glass’s work with Unreal Engine. Some students in the course want to tell stories that reflect their landscape or with characters that look like them. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of assets in the Unreal Marketplace, making it prohibitive to do so. So Glass encourages people to produce assets that represent worlds and characters often overlooked in immersive storytelling and contribute to the XR marketplace. Many students have already started doing this work.

While the GRX courses and XR learning platform is currently available in the US, the plan is to expand internationally. The program continues to grow thanks to partnerships with tech companies like Elektaschock, AMD, Meta Reality Labs, and youth organizations like Better Youth and Baron Jay Foundation. Innovative non-profits like Surdna Foundation help with infrastructure funds, while industry stalwarts like Verizon Innovative Learning 5G Labs partner with GRX to build its music-inspired learning platforms like Art Beats Tech.

Reflecting on the impact of the course thus far, Glass is proud of the exposure and awareness that’s been brought to immersive storytelling. “Most of the participants didn't know about these opportunities, careers, or tools,” he recalls. “At the end of the course, we help them map out their next steps and develop a plan to maximize and implement this knowledge. We have high school students who want to explore new pathways and adults seeking career changes. There’s space for all in immersive storytelling.”

To explore GRX Immersive’s January class schedule, please click here.

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