EMA students work at VR experience at Tribeca Film Festival

Eight emerging media arts students worked at the premiere of "Evolver" at the Tribeca Film Festival. "Evolver" is a collective virtual reality experience that drops audiences deep inside the landscape of a body. Photo by Maricel Reinhard.
Eight emerging media arts students worked at the premiere of "Evolver" at the Tribeca Film Festival. "Evolver" is a collective virtual reality experience that drops audiences deep inside the landscape of a body. Photo by Maricel Reinhard.

EMA students work at VR experience at Tribeca Film Festival

calendar icon28 Sep 2022    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Trystan Nord experiences Marshmallow Laser Feast's "Evolver" in London. Photo by Wyatt Debban.
Trystan Nord experiences Marshmallow Laser Feast's "Evolver" in London. Photo by Wyatt Debban.

Lincoln, Neb.--Eight emerging media arts students traveled to New York City to work at the premiere of Marshmallow Laser Feast’s “Evolver” at the Tribeca Film Festival’s immersive festival in June.

“Evolver” is a collective virtual reality experience that drops audiences deep inside the landscape of a body, following the flow of oxygen through our branching ecosystem, to a single “breathing” cell. It becomes clear that breath not only sparks life, but also connects us to the natural world through the cycle of respiration.

“It was a pleasure to have students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with us for the premiere of ‘Evolver’ at the Tribeca Film Festival 2022,” said Emma Hamilton, a producer on site with the project. “The students assisted with the set up and smooth running of the show as hosts, welcoming and assisting festival goers in their immersive experience. We received incredible feedback including a 5-star review in the Independent, and the team at Marshmallow Laser Feast agree unanimously that the students were absolutely indispensable to the day-to-day running of the installation, and the positive user experiences that were had as a result.”

The paid internships were offered after students and faculty connected with Marshmallow Laser Feast in London earlier. Eleven students traveled to London this summer for the Emerging Media Arts study abroad course titled “Story Abroad: Future Fictions, London, U.K.” taught by Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash Eliza Smith and accompanied by Carson Center Founding Director Megan Elliott. While there, they did a workshop with Marshmallow Laser Feast, a London-based multimedia design studio that specializes in virtual reality, augmented reality and haptic technology for social good. The students were among the first to test “Evolver” and provide feedback on it.

“After they took us in and gave us all of what they’re up to, they offered students internships, and that was great because we demoed the piece that was going to be featured at Tribeca. They were so impressed with the caliber of our students that they were offered paid internships in New York,” Smith said. “Traveling like this, you get to make these global connections and real-world connections. It was cool to see that manifest on the first trip.”

The students also went to the Barbican Center and saw “Our Time on Earth,” which also included a finished piece by Marshmallow Laser Feast titled “Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest.”

“They saw their entire working pipeline,” Smith said.

Sophia Stueven, a senior emerging media arts student, attended the presentation and demonstration by Marshmallow Laser Feast in London.

“They presented their work, who they are and their process, and we got to give them feedback,” she said. “That was really cool that we got to sit in a room with them. Then we went out to their workspace and got to try ‘Evolver.’”

Stueven knew the internships were an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I was going back and forth about it because I had already been gone for two and a half weeks,” Stueven said. “But I realized if this is the kind of stuff that I wanted to do, it would be ridiculous of me not to go if I can. I have to go.”

She said the experience was invaluable.

“We got to hang out with them, outside of working,” she said. “They invited us to go to some events, and I sat right next to their founder and had a conversation with him and everyone who made [‘Evolver’]. That was really cool, just to be able to meet them and have them know me.”

Stueven, Samuel Lawton, Trystan Nord and Olivia Jenkins participated in both the London study abroad and Marshmallow Laser Feast internship in New York City. Additionally, Maricel Reinhard, Abby Hall, Ally Hall and Josi Morgan also participated in the internships in New York City.

“We went to New York as kind of like a production assistant,” said Reinhard, who was there for the first week of the installation. “They needed help with the set-up for the installation for Tribeca and then leading audience members through it. I got to work opening night, which was super cool.”

While her week in New York was a whirlwind, Reinhard said the experience was “amazing.”

“I had never experienced this type of production in such a large scale, and I had never been to New York before,” she said. “I also feel like as students in this program, it’s really important to see where our careers can take us and get to see these different companies showcasing their work and what the work can actually be. It was also cool because we were working right alongside the team that made the experience, along with the production side, and the dynamic between the whole team was so fun. It’s really kind of inspiring and motivating to want to continue this work.”

Nord was also there for the first week and participated in the set-up of “Evolver.”

“The first two days were really heavy on set up,” he said. “How do you a design a set when you’re basically given a small warehouse and have to turn it into something that is a good experience? Some of it was more technical work, like I remember taking a vacuum and just standing under a dude for 10 minutes as he was drilling different pictures into walls and stuff like that. But then some of it was really helping with the software. One of the creators approached me and said I need you to listen to this audio for 10 minutes straight and tell me if you hear anything wrong. It was a fun mix of duties during the set up.”

Seeing the transformation from a project to a finished experience was inspiring.

“It was a really cool thing to see because we all got to experience it in real time,” Nord said. “This goes back to the Carson Center preparing us. In the workflow here, we think oh, this is for an educational project. It can’t apply to the real world. To see that a lot of the ways in which they were designing is exactly what we do at the Center was informative. It also took a weight off my shoulders to be able to see that directly translated into the real world.”

Morgan was there for two weeks, including a few extra days on their own.

“The school helped offset the cost of sleeping in New York, which of course, can be very expensive,” they said. “Through this opportunity, we were not only able to work with the Marshmallow Laser Feast people and network and talk to them about what they’re doing and get insight into how presenting something at a show like that actually works. But we also bought our own tickets to see the rest of the immersive Tribeca stuff, so that was really cool, just getting to be at the film festival and check stuff out.”

Ally Hall was also there for two weeks.

“It didn’t feel like a vacation,” she said. “It was an interesting amount of time to be there and take the subways and learn how to navigate the city. It was fun for me as a Nebraska girl to do the commute thing from the Brooklyn area to Manhattan for work every day. I felt like it was a little taste of what it could be like to live there and have a job.”

They enjoyed working with Marshmallow Laser Feast.

“They were very welcoming,” Morgan said. “And it was cool to see how many similarities there were in their work process. Like what we’re learning in the classes is the exact same process that they’re doing.”

Seeing the work was inspiring.

“What they did in the actual VR piece and the headsets they were using, it’s the stuff we have here at the school,” Reinhard said. “It’s stuff that we’ve talked about and worked with, not exactly the same, but it was really inspiring to see the work that we can do here and have done in such a large scale and getting that much attention.”

Ally Hall said it was a positive experience.

“Something I definitely took away was just seeing the way that they set everything up and how they displayed it for an audience,” she said. “It was insightful to see how they navigated that.”

Reinhard also liked the independence they had.

“You weren’t with professors from school,” she said. “We were there on our own. It felt very real world. And it was just cool to know that you can have so much fun doing this work in the future. I think that was my favorite part, getting to know everyone on the team and that bonding with them.

Reinhard also enjoyed exploring some of the city while she was there, including museums and Central Park.

“This is the first time I’ve been there, and I was in the airport coming home, and I cried because I didn’t want to come back,” she said. “It was amazing. And I know there’s so many opportunities there, and I also feel there’s just such an energy there that I really like.”

Ally Hall had the opportunity to explore New York, too.

“Me and my sister [Abby]. Went together, and we are really interested in fashion, so we went and saw the fashion avenue stuff and like Saks Fifth Avenue,” she said. “This is where everything is happening. I can’t go to these crazy stories in Lincoln, so it was really fun to go and see all that stuff that I’d only heard about online before.”

Reinhard was grateful for the experience.

“I’m thankful I got to go there because I feel like it showed me more of what I can do,” she said. “I feel like this school is so good at showing us where we can go with this degree. It was really inspiring.”

Executive produced by Edward R. Pressman and Terrence Malick, “Evolver” featured voice over by Cate Blanchett and music by Jonny Greenwood, Meredith Monk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Howard Skempton and Jon Hopkins.