Published April 25, 2024

Two people wearing virtual reality headsets, touching virtual shapes in virtual space. If you are interested in leveraging cutting-edge technology to tell stories that matter—to entertain, effect change, or shine a light on fascinating people and perspectives—mastering the tools and techniques of extended reality, or XR, is a must.

The rapidly expanding market for XR, which encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies, offers exciting opportunities with wide-ranging applications in medicine, public health, education, media arts, diplomacy, business, and many other fields.

Read on to learn more about the process of becoming an immersive storyteller who puts users at the heart of the story and how a master’s degree program can help you develop the skills and knowledge to elevate yourself to the cutting edge of innovation.

Creating Immersive Experiences

Whether they use VR, AR, AI, or another technology, immersive storytellers “create experiences that deliver a compelling sense of presence, giving the audience the feeling of being there,” says Jason Gray, a lecturer who teaches courses in the JHU MA in Film and Media program’s Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technologies concentration.

At Johns Hopkins, graduate students pursuing the ISET concentration learn to create new worlds, immerse viewers into the heart of a story, and solve complex problems using XR. The learning process begins with an exploration of the history of immersive technologies, and students then work their way through a selection of courses designed to develop the expertise they will need to advance in their field. Students gain insight into real-world applications and expand their network through expert guest lecturers, collaboration with their peers, and hands-on projects that enhance their professional portfolio.

Building a Foundation

A first step in becoming an immersive storyteller is developing an understanding of the transformative technologies creators have at their disposal. The most common types of XR environments that immersive storytellers work in are:

Virtual Reality: VR is a computer-generated 3D environment that the participant interacts with, often using goggles, headsets, gloves, or other special devices. In VR experiences, the participant can walk through a scene, with a 360-degree view, and interact with elements within the scene.

Augmented/Mixed Reality: AR superimposes computer-generated assets, such as video, images, or 3D models, onto the real world using mobile devices or mixed-reality headsets. An AR experience might involve the participant walking down a street and using special glasses to view objects or information that is superimposed on the real world. MR takes AR a step further by allowing the user to interact with and manipulate the superimposed assets in the actual world.

Artificial Intelligence: AI is a broad term that refers to the use of computer systems to perform functions that would otherwise require human intelligence. In film and media, AI can be used to create non-playable characters in games, multimedia assets, and special effects, among other uses. In the Johns Hopkins MA in Film and Media program, students learn how to use AI creative tools and techniques and also gain an understanding of the ethical and legal issues surrounding AI.

Other exciting emerging technologies that immersive storytellers are using include WebXR, 3D scanning, and spatial audio.

At Johns Hopkins, students in the ISET concentration get their initial understanding of immersive technologies by taking the Foundations of Immersive Storytelling: Theory and Practice course. In this course, students begin with an exploration of the history of immersive technologies—starting with the stereoscopic viewers of the 1800s and continuing to the present day—and move on to create basic immersive experiences using 360-degree cameras and other equipment. “This introduces students to learning about things like presence and the difference between watching a film and experiencing one,” says Gray.

For an example of immersive storytelling that uses the types of tools and technologies JHU graduate students master, read about the War Up Close virtual reality exhibit, which the MA in Film and Media program co-hosted in March 2024.

Developing Expertise

To progress on the path to becoming an immersive storyteller, you will need to hone your skills in the use of immersive technologies and techniques. Graduate film and media programs offer the opportunity to develop such expertise, and also allow you to explore and understand the creative process and the decision-making and ethical/legal considerations tied to immersive storytelling.

At Johns Hopkins, courses in the ISET concentration include:

  • Foundations of Immersive Storytelling Theory and Practice
  • Virtual Production: A New Era of Filmmaking
  • Artificial Collaboration: AI and the Creative Process
  • Workshop for the Immersive Storyteller: Skills and Training
  • Production for Creative Technology

In addition to the four courses required for their concentration, ISET students take three courses required for all film and media students, including Graduate Filmmaking Studio I and II—the centerpiece of the graduate filmmaking experience—and the Capstone course, in which they research, develop, and deliver a final project. ISET students also take four additional electives in the field of film and media.

Gaining Real-World Experience

To become an immersive storyteller, you will need to gain real-world experience as you perfect your craft, and a graduate program in film and media can be an effective way to gain such experience.

At Johns Hopkins, the MA in Film and Media program is a hands-on, project-based educational experience designed to develop students for a professional track. Students learn from instructors who are experts in their field and gain additional knowledge from guest lecturers who bring direct industry experience as well. Lecturers, fellow students, and guest lecturers share expertise in a variety of fields, including computer science, visual art, journalism, filmmaking, music, and entertainment.

Earn Your Master’s in Film and Media at JHU

The MA in Film and Media program offered by JHU’s Advanced Academic Programs division offers a cutting-edge curriculum, hands-on learning, and invaluable interaction with seasoned industry professionals. Students can pursue concentrations in ISET, The Business of Film, Sound Design, and Writing.

Contact us for more information about JHU’s film and media graduate program.

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