Centennial Game Art students bring virtual reality to Nuit Blanche

For one night only, students from Centennial College joined forces with local artists to transform the city of Toronto.

Youth from Regent Park and other Toronto communities collaborated with select Centennial College students to create an art exhibition for Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night art show that occurred on October 5, 2019. Through a unique combination of art and interactive technology, visitors experienced new ideas about overlooked Toronto communities through the collaborative virtual reality (VR) storytelling exhibition, “Immersed” at Artscape Daniels Launchpad.

The purpose of “Immersed” was to “promote new ways of thinking about how we interact with our neighbours, and to encourage deeper participation in community and civic life,” according to the official description. Using VR headsets, visitors embodied a perspective of someone from those communities, encouraging a change in perspective. “It allowed me to be in the voice’s shoes. I could see and experience it as if I was really there. It was very [immersive] and I felt the VR had a strong impact on the story,” said one participant after experiencing the exhibition.

This project began in April 2018, with a successful application to the College and Community Social Innovation Fund Grants program by Centennial College in partnership with ArtScape Toronto. The project was driven by a research question: can community storytelling provide avenues to resist territorial stigmatization by putting forward new stories about the assets of a neighbourhood to encourage deeper participation in the life of the community?

Centennial College brought in the virtual reality and gaming expertise to select youth from the Ada Slaight Youth Artist Mentorship program who were partnered with selected Centennial College Game Art students and mentored by industry professionals – Centennial College faculty to build their business and technical skills with virtual reality, video editing, digital storytelling and game production. For those Centennial College students, it was a no-brainer decision they made to participate in an event they could place right on their resume.

“I took all the skills from the [Game Art] program (3D modelling, texturing etc.) and applied them to this project,” said Jenny Sherwood, a first-year student. “I’ve never been to Nuit Blanche before, so it was an interesting new experience; helping people get to experience what we worked on was very rewarding.”

“Rather than gaining new skills working on this project, I got work experience from this project,” said Judy Xie. “This is my first time collaborating with a group of people to make a game, it was a little hectic and I learned a lot from the process of it…  It was nice work experience and I’d say prepared some of us to what to expect when we work for others.”

For over 12 months, students, faculty, youth and industry professionals worked together to learn about VR storytelling, develop story content, assets and graphics for several 5-minute VR experiences, develop sound methods for testing stories, collect and analyze data methodologically and ultimately execute shift the well-known, infamous narrative of Regent Park that stigmatizes its residents.

Through opportunities like this one, students learn how to work with others, learn from potential missteps, and strengthen their soft skills overall on several levels in the field, Nuit Blanche in this case. This is how this opportunity produced a well-rounded experience; the benefits to both students and Nuit Blanche were on a social innovation level, a technical innovation level and a collaborative level.

Centennial College prepares its students to explore the world of opportunity that awaits them beyond the classroom. It remains a top priority to continuously engage students in its extensive network of industry partners and collaborators, specifically in the applied research and innovation space. Collaborations like that of Centennial College Game Art students and numerous Toronto youth for Nuit Blanche 2019 is just one example of how student engagement is key to the College’s continued success.

As Denisyek surmised about the experience:

“…it was hard to believe that we, the students, made such a big project in such a short period of time. The fact that we are part of this huge exhibition is incredible! It inspires and makes you believe in yourself and in your strength. I am very glad that we had this opportunity to become a part of Nuit Blanche.” 

For more information about the project, visit: https://www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/festivals-events/nuitblanche/all-art-projects/details/2019/project/immersed/

For more information about Centennial College’s applied research work:  https://www.centennialcollege.ca/centres-institutes/applied-research-innovation-and-entrepreneurship-services/applied-research-and-innovation-centre/about-aric/

Mar, 13, 2020