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Virtual Reality Courses – A Comprehensive Guide with Ana-Despina Tudor

There are numerous different ways of learning virtual reality. Some learn Unity or Unreal at home, while others take development courses after work. Many transfer their skills towards VR from another industry. Virtual reality courses at university are one of the most direct ways of learning the new technology, which this article will cover.

This article provides a comprehensive guide on one example course, from the London College of Communications. In this case, the article will dissect one course to help expand on what studying VR would be like. Ana-Despina Tudor, Course Leader for MA Virtual Reality at London College of Communication, provides her insights.

But before we begin the interview…

What kind of virtual reality courses are there?

One of the first items candidates should consider is the type of virtual reality course they would like to take. There is not a cookie-cutter course which can explore all the multiple facets of virtual reality. At times, specialisation is necessary.

The types available include:

  • Gaming – Is the purpose to learn video game design principles and coding? Is it to learn how to use certain game engines, such as Unity or Unreal, to build virtual reality games?
  • Filmmaking – Is the purpose to create a VR film? Is it a cinematic VR experience in a 360 format, watchable via sites like YouTube? Or is it a more realistic experience set in a virtual environment, playable only on the HTC VIVE or the Oculus Rift?
  • Research – Is the purpose to see the effects of VR in several circumstances? Such as studying the psychological effects of VR in people recovering from trauma?

The choice is up to you. In this case, the interview will cover VR from filmmaking and animation, to video games and AR. The course is broad, covering theory and practice in the industry.

If this sounds right for you, read on…

What is your background? Why are you doing it personally?

I have been interested in VR for quite a while. I came across it in 2009, when my university in Germany did an MA in media studies and communication science that included applied augmented reality in game design, and VR research for phobia treatment.

I liked it so much that I did a masters thesis, then applied for a PhD about developing a concept on how to design communication training programs in virtual reality environments.

Basically, a lot of students need public speaking training. It is difficult to get the people necessary to help them, so in theory, VR training can be really useful, provided the virtual audiences are realistic. The more realistic the audience, the better the experience. My research into this formed the basis of my PhD in 2016.

When I was looking at VR, it was very niche, mostly happening in psychology. VR and psychology have been around since the early 90s, typically used in phobia treatment and the like; to this day it is still useful for that.

Why is the LCC doing a virtual reality course?

Our college is focused on filmmaking, moving images, games, VR. So, we brought it all together. There is a lot of great potential in VR, which is the university went for it.

Also, VR is interesting because it uses a different language from films, with the added layer of interaction. We explore these opportunities in the course.

Is virtual reality a viable career option?

I think so. It is a viable option especially if the person is looking to be a creative director, or anyone who wants to expand and sell across multiple platforms. It is is now a career option, and the virtual reality course helps to think around the technology in regards to planning and concepts.

That said, it may be difficult to find a job at the moment, but it is definitely growing, and it wholly depends on whether the user accepts it. But it is not a niche technology anymore. After Facebook bought Oculus Rift, it gained more visibility.

In addition, VR is a great platform for artists that want to explore a new creative space: there are apps for painting and sculpting in VR or that let people work collaboratively and create 3D art.

What benefits are there for learning virtual reality in a virtual reality course?

A virtual reality course puts VR in a broader context, and helps students understand its roots, how it impacts the human mind, and the role it can have in society. This includes creating content ethically, immersing people in the industry. This is beyond making content; rather, it understanding the role of how VR impacts who you are and people around you.

As you may see, it is much wider than coding. We teach how to write scripts for films, and figure out qualities and challenges in making content.

What are the skills needed to learn virtual reality?

For our students, they submit a portfolio and personal statement. For us, we look for any experience with moving images. Not knowing how to code is not necessarily a bad thing; we can teach that. We look for other qualities.

When working in a new field, it is important to be resilient and push through, as there are so many unknown aspects. A glitch can destroy everything, or the person may have to re-do a project. We look for motivated people looking to experiment, ready to start over and push through boundaries.

In essence, we look for personalities and skill, as well as talent, an artistic eye, or an interest in the creative industries. It is hard to teach someone to be curious. People have to think as a pioneer, as someone who starts sailing on if they reach land.

What would be on a typical VR syllabus?

We are teaching some fundamentals on VR concepts, theories, human and computer interactions (where VR stands), and how it links back to film and game design principles. Then, we look at how it can be made user-friendly.

There is a lot of experimentation and hours where students can work on their own projects, and we watch as many VR things as possible.

Another part of the curriculum is working collaboratively with other peers. We encourage students to have their own idea, then trying to find collaborators to work on it. It is like project management, so we are teaching that as well.

How do I create content? What tools do you have them learn

We have been using Unity for now. There is a bit of modeling, but its been minimal. A lot of students know assets and just tweak them. But our focus is not on model creation, it’s story.

We also teach how to use 360 cameras and stitching software. In addition, we develop for tethered headsets, such as the HTC VIVE. We experiment with mobile VR and augmented reality as well

Dr Ana-Despina Tudor is Course Leader for MA Virtual Reality at London College of Communication. Find out more. Virtual Perceptions does not endorse the course, and thanks Ana for her insights on what studying VR is like in this particular example.