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With Augmented & Virtual Reality, VMA Students Learn Creative Problem-Solving

Still image from VMA Professor John Craig Freeman's Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos
Still image from VMA Professor John Craig Freeman’s Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos.

With recent advancements in augmented and virtual reality, Emerson Visual & Media Arts students are learning the latest technologies to explore new methods of storytelling.

Visual & Media Arts Professor John Craig Freeman (who recently was thanked by the Daniels at the Independent Spirit Awards) is an expert in filmmaking using augmented and virtual reality. He has high hopes for all of his students to create exciting work, especially as the technology only gets better and more widely available to the public.

“In my own practice, I come to it as a public artist,” said Freeman, who started teaching emerging media courses in 2002. “For over three decades I’ve used emerging technology in my own work in the attempt to invent new forms of public art, so I’m thinking about how art can be integrated into our lives without necessarily going to museums and galleries.” 

In his own work, Freeman explores social and political issues. With his augmented reality public art project Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, he maps memorials along the United States and Mexico border.

Freeman said that students are becoming increasingly interested in artificial intelligence. 

  • Naked torsos blending into each other
  • Smoky scene with non-Earth creatures in the background
  • An artistic black and yellow image
  • A man with tentacle-like things all over him, kisses a woman
  • A man shares a spaghetti-like item with a bony skeleton
  • A woman screams while a giant creature with sharp teeth opens wide near her

Above: Images by Tomás Orrego MFA ’24

“It was interesting to start experimenting with [AI],” said Tomás Orrego, MFA ’24. “I was drawn to it for all the weird, dreamlike images you can get.”

“AI isn’t going to destroy the world. People shouldn’t be afraid of it, especially artists, because it’s such an amazing tool,” Orrego said.

VMA emerging media courses can be tailored to student interests through upper-level workshop style classes, where students can work on their own creative projects.

“The idea is that they take a number of classes where they build core skills in order to be able to work independently, so they can come into their final two semesters and work on a single project as a capstone thesis experience,” Freeman said.

  • Still image created Asma Khoshmehr MFA ’23
  • Still image created Asma Khoshmehr MFA ’23
  • Still image created Asma Khoshmehr MFA ’23

Film and Media Arts student Asma Khoshmehr, MFA ’23 wanted an individualized program where she could learn software and technology skills for her work.

“I am interested in exploring fresh ways to tell stories by incorporating cutting-edge technologies such as AI, VR/AR/XR, 3D animation, and beyond. However, what is most essential is to master the art of storytelling,” Khoshmehr said.

In 2021 she worked on an immersive VR project called “Before_I_Was_Born__,” which was based on an interview with her uncle about his experience escaping to Iran.

“My aspiration is to create art and convey stories that hold significance for me. The sole purpose that drives me is to create art based on my personal narratives, and with technology constantly evolving, I am committed to continuous learning,” Khoshmehr said.

Taking what they have learned in their Emerson classes, Freeman wants his students to be able to “realize their creative vision” and invent with emerging media.

“Students learn to use software, but it’s really not about that, it’s really about creative problem solving ultimately and learning to trust their own creative imagination as well,” Freeman said.

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