Johns Hopkins University will add an exciting new concentration to its thriving Film & Media Masters of Arts Program in January*. Titled “Immersive Storytelling & Emerging Technologies” (ISET), the cutting-edge educational experience will be one of the most diverse and affordable in the country, offering curriculum at the vanguard of creative thought in the fast-evolving, still largely undeveloped fields of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

“With this new concentration and set of initiatives, we will create a space to explore some of the most pressing issues related to emerging technologies and immersive experiences as they relate to storytelling, artistic expression and social impact,” said Roberto Busó-García, Director, Film and Media Master of Arts and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film & Media at Johns Hopkins. “We aim to continue bridging the access gap between talented and visionary individuals from all walks of life and the industry at large.”

Inclusivity is a hallmark of Hopkins’ Film & Media Master of Arts program. Indeed, it ranks among the nation’s most diverse graduate programs across race, gender and ethnicity with nearly 70% women and 80% people of color. This same diversity will be a cornerstone of the new ISET concentration, where tuition is a third of what similar programs cost at institutions like New York University and University of Southern California. In this way, ISET will offer students who might not otherwise have access to the expensive tools necessary to explore this uncharted technological territory, with the opportunity to thrive in it.

Designed and led by award-winning VR and AR filmmaker Gabo Arora, the new concentration will feature rigorous training in the gripping worlds of digital storytelling and creative technology, highlighting the ways virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence can be used to make innovative forms of cinematic art for the digital age.

“I began my journey in virtual reality filmmaking at the United Nations, with the goal of using this new and rich storytelling medium to create empathy for some of the world’s most pressing challenges. VR and AR can tell and teach with a depth that is unattainable in most other creative media,” said Arora. “The concentration, when combined with Johns Hopkins’ strong academic programs, will drive social impact across disciplines ranging from medicine to law and international relations.”

Students will have access to industry standard equipment in intimate classes led by a distinguished group of advisors and faculty who have displayed a singular commitment to the social impact of VR/AR, and are committed to making Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University a leader in the space in order to promote greater representation. One of the aims of the new offering is to use the power of immersive technology for urban renewal in Baltimore and beyond.

Additionally, the renowned Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Lieber Institute for Brain Development will be vital allies and partners, working with the Film & Media graduate program to utilize VR as a tool to treat and diagnose schizophrenia and autism. Numerous future projects are in the pipeline with other Johns Hopkins faculties, making the ISET concentration entirely interdisciplinary from the outset.

Immersive Media Conference
On October 7th, a free, hands-on Immersive Media Conference will highlight what prospective students, along with the Baltimore community can expect of the new concentration by sharing the creative works and ideas of the world's leading VR/AR specialists, and giving participants a chance to experience these technologies for the first time.

Attendees will be invited to demo an early example of the type of work ISET hopes to foster, with a project called, “Freedom Fighter.” The social justice AR experience brings Baltimore civil rights leader, Lillie May Carroll Jackson to life, connecting viewers to important landmarks that unite her oral testimony with crucial historical events.

Speakers at the conference include Gabo Arora; Yelena Rachitsky, the creative producer and head of education at Facebook’s Oculus Story Studio; Barry Pousman, the CEO of VR production company Variable Labs and the United Nations’ New Media Specialist; and Jessica Brillhart, the principal VR filmmaker at Google, among others. VR and AR projects available for special viewing are listed below:

  • Alteration | Created by Jerome Blanquet  Alexandro volunteers for an experiment carried out to study dreams in this poetic trip into the future. He can’t imagine that he will be subjected to the intrusion of Elsa, a form of Artificial Intelligence who aims to digitize his subconscious in order to feed off of it. She’s a vampire…bit by megabit.


  • Beethoven's Fifth, First Movement | Created by Jessica Brillhart  Journey into interstellar space with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, First Movement by the Philharmonia Orchestra, London—featuring principal conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. This experience is inspired by content on Voyager's Golden Record and is a collaboration between Daydream, the Philharmonia Orchestra, NASA, and NASA JPL. With generous support from SubPac.


  • Clouds Over Sidra | Created by Gabo Arora, Chris Milk and Barry Pousman  Meet Sidra. This charming 12-year-old girl will guide you through her temporary home: The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Zaatari is home to 130,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war, and children make up half the camp's population. In this lyrical VR film, Sidra leads you through her daily life: Eating, sleeping, learning and playing in the vast desert city of tents.


  • Dear Angelica | Created by Saschka Unseld and Wesley Allsbrook  From Emmy Award winning Oculus Story Studio comes Dear Angelica, a journey through the magical and dreamlike ways we remember our loved ones. Entirely painted by hand inside of VR, Dear Angelica plays out in a series of memories that unfold around you. An immersive, illustrative short story starring Geena Davis and Mae Whitman.


  • Evolution of Verse | Created by Chris Milk  This celebrated, landmark VR film takes you on a journey from one beginning, to a new beginning. Created in photo-realistic CGI-rendered 3D VR. Watch for: The train — with a tip of the hat to the Lumiere Brothers.


  • Freedom Fighter | Created by Taura Musgrove  Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson is a mother of American Civil Rights, though few people, even in her hometown of Baltimore, know her name. As head of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for thirty-five years, she organized to protest lynching, educational segregation, and police brutality. She believed in the power of the United States Constitution and waged non-violent battles against discrimination. The Lillie May Carroll Jackson Technology Project will introduce a new generation to Dr. Jackson and her work via an Augmented Reality (AR) experience of this great civil rights leader.


  • The Last Goodbye | Created by Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz  In July of 2016, Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter toured the Majdanek Concentration Camp in what he vowed would be his final visit. By marrying a stereo video capture of Pinchas within a photoreal roomscale experience, The Last Goodbye reaches profound levels of immersion in service of the first ever VR testimony that will be archived and preserved. The importance of listening to Pinchas’ story is more important now than ever and this is also a beautiful testament to love, compassion and the human spirit.


  • Lincoln in the Bardo | Created by Graham Sack  On February 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son Willie is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. That night, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln arrives shattered by grief to cradle his son’s body. A thrilling exploration of death, grief, and the powers of good and evil Lincoln in the Bardo is the first-ever direct adaptation of a novel into virtual reality
  • Notes on Blindness | Created by Colinart, La Burthe, Middleton and Spinney  After losing his sight in 1983, John Hull began to record an audio diary documenting his discovery of ‘a world beyond sight’. Hull's original recordings form the basis of this beautifully animated documentary, which uses 360° video and binaural sound to explore the world of the blind.

*Pending MHEC Approval

The Film & Media Master of Arts program provides students with the skills they need to become successful practitioners in the film, television, and immersive media industries. We focus on experiential, hands-on learning in order to help our students develop their artistic voices and practical expertise in the areas of storytelling, business, filmmaking, and immersive technologies. Our instructors in these concentrations are highly successful filmmakers, executives, technologists, and artists currently working at the highest echelons of the industry and dedicated to sharing their expertise.