Indigenous students from across Canada are breaking new ground in storytelling through the world’s first Indigenous Virtual Production program. Developed in partnership between the IM4 Lab and Emily Carr University of Art and Design, this program offers Indigenous artists a unique opportunity to explore virtual reality and a new form of artistic expression.
Under the guidance of filmmaker Loretta Todd and a team of industry professionals, the program aims to equip First Nations communities with cutting-edge virtual reality production skills. The IM4 Lab, founded in 2018 by Todd, Doreen Manuel, Cease Wyss, and Tracey Kim Bonneau, has been a leader in Indigenous media and arts education.
The inaugural group of two dozen Indigenous students embarked on an eight-week remote learning journey, immersing themselves in the study of Epic Games’s Unreal Engine, a powerful tool for creating immersive virtual worlds. With this knowledge, the students traveled to Vancouver to put their skills into action by capturing and presenting their projects.
A remarkable aspect of the program was the use of state-of-the-art technology, including an LED wall that displayed graphics. This advanced tool allowed the students to film actors against a 3-D environment created by their peers at the IM4 Lab. The combination of Unreal Engine and the LED wall allowed for real-time adjustments and effects, bringing the students’ creative visions to life.
Esteemed Indigenous actors Renae Morriseau and Nathaniel Arcand contributed their talents to the program, working closely with the students to bring Indigenous stories to fruition. Each student had an hour to shoot a brief video that reflected their unique background and deep connection with their Indigenous heritage, resulting in a diverse range of powerful narratives.
The program not only focused on developing the students’ technical skills but also provided vital support in job placement, securing funding, and advancing their careers. The organizers envision these students becoming inspirations and agents of change within their communities as they share their acquired skills.
The Indigenous Virtual Production program has fostered pride and cultural expression among the students, serving as a catalyst for creativity and collaboration. For many, this transformative experience has allowed them to explore their heritage through the innovative lens of virtual reality.
Playing a pivotal role in guiding the students throughout the program, the operations manager of the IM4 Lab, who has Mapuche, Andean, German, and Spanish ancestry, ensured the students’ voices were heard and their stories were authentic and accurately represented.
As the program comes to a close, the students have gained invaluable skills and insights into the world of virtual production. Their ability to seamlessly merge traditional storytelling with cutting-edge technology has unlocked new possibilities and perspectives within the Indigenous arts community.
The Indigenous Virtual Production program not only provides opportunities for Indigenous artists to explore new avenues of creativity but also demonstrates the power of collaboration and innovation. With their newfound skills and experiences, these talented students are poised to make a lasting impact on the world of virtual reality and beyond, enriching Indigenous storytelling for future generations.