UNCSA receives $ 25,000 grant from NEA for extended immersive storytelling residency



The Media + Emerging Technology Lab (METL) received a $ 25,000 Art Project Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support its Immersive Storytelling Residency. METL Director Ryan Schmaltz announced the grant as UNCSA launches the second year of the residency, which brings together writers, technical artists and software engineers to create fully realized virtual reality (VR) experiences . Expanded this year from a team of three to two teams with a total of seven, the residency began on May 1 and will end on October 31 with the launch of two projects.

METL’s Immersive Storytelling Residency is one of more than 1,100 projects across America to receive NEA grants totaling nearly $ 27 million. “As the country and the arts sector begin to envision returning to a post-pandemic world, the National Endowment for the Arts is proud to announce funding that will help arts organizations such as UNCSA re-engage fully with partners and the public, ”said the Acting NEA President. Ann Eilers.

“We had a multitude of accomplished and diverse applicants for the Immersive Storytelling Residency,” Schmaltz said. “With additional funding, including the NEA grant, we have seized the opportunity to expand the program, which will translate into twice the content for a market where demand is higher than ever.”

With additional funding, including the NEA grant, we have seized the opportunity to expand the program, which will translate into twice the content for a market where demand is higher than ever.

Ryan schmaltz

New METL residents – two of whom are expected to graduate from the UNCSA School of Filmmaking this year – have experience with Meow Wolf, Facebook’s Oculus, Kennedy Center, South by Southwest, and more. They are the writers Mikaela Y. Byrd (MFA ’21), Arif Khan and Drew Paryzer; programmers and designers Daniel Sabio and Darren Woodland, Jr .; extended reality (XR) developer Lawrence Yip; and host John Curran (BFA ’21).

The inaugural immersive storytelling residency ended in September 2020 with the completion of BonsAI – an immersive storytelling experience inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

METL was established in 2017 by the best film school of the UNCSA. The lab is dedicated to defining and shaping the evolution of how the content of an immersive story will be created, consumed and told.

“As one of the few immersive labs in the country to be housed in a professional art conservatory, METL is ideally located to train and serve as a resource for the next generation of creative innovators,” said Schmaltz, who has designed the storytelling residency. “The residency brings together people with complementary skills, gives them the opportunity to develop an idea using METL technology and resources, and provides guidance and mentorship from key industry experts.”

Mentors in residence included Navid Khonsari, founder of iNK Stories, a New York-based digital storytelling studio; Kent Bye, host of the nationally recognized Voices of VR podcast; Jacquie Barnbrook, Oscar-winning visual effects producer; Joy Goodwin, Emmy Award-winning screenwriter and director of screenwriting for graduates of the UNCSA Film School; Bob Keen, Chair of the School of Filmmaking’s Visual Effects and Immersive Media Program; and Zahra Rasool, Chief and Editorial Officer of Al Jazeera Contrast.

METL also received a $ 25,000 Epic Games MegaGrant to support the Immersive Storytelling Residency program. Unlike most programs that charge a fee for training and professional development opportunities, METL provides each selected participant with a monthly stipend of $ 3,500 per month for the six-month residency.


Mikaela Y. Byrd is a writer and animation enthusiast who expresses herself through her writings to create social dialogues. She uses sci-fi worlds to create a safe and immersive place for viewers to learn more about people they wouldn’t normally meet and who would face issues they wouldn’t typically face. Byrd writes to humanize the world so that things like class, race, and everyday fears can be a discussion, not a hindrance. She is currently completing her Masters in Screenwriting from the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, she holds a Bachelor of Theater Technology from North Carolina A&T State University. Byrd has worked with the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Wolf Trap Opera, and the UNCSA ArtistCorps.

Mikaela Byrd

John curran, who will this year receive a BFA in Cinema from UNCSA with a concentration in Animation, is a character artist and animator who creates attractive forms that are rooted in a strong sense of body mechanics. He has experience helping bring characters to life and supporting the technical backbone of animated projects. Curran worked with Boy Scouts of America on virtual product visualization and hosted the shorts “Mundane Velvet Room”, “Astral Creation 101” and “Folding Fur”.

John Curran is an immersive storytelling resident

John curran

Arif Khan is a British writer and director based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He has held positions with Airbnb Creative Studio, Warner Bros. Animation and Oculus Story Studio, the Emmy Award-winning Facebook team dedicated to the research and development of virtual reality storytelling. His short films and virtual reality projects have been screened at genre festivals around the world, including the Sitges International Film Festival, the Science + Fiction Festival in Trieste, the Imagine Film Festival and the European Fantastic Film Festival in Strasbourg. . Prior to earning his MA in Film Production at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, he obtained his MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge.

Arif Khan is a resident of immersive storytelling

Arif Khan

Drew Paryzer is a playwright and interactive storyteller. His plays have been developed at institutions such as the Kennedy Center, the Roundabout Theater, and the Playwrights’ Center. Interactive work includes the Resilience Sentry escape room (University of Texas-Austin); Superfluxus point-and-click sci-fi adventure (Pivot Arts Festival 2020); Halloween Craft Fair and Cult Ritual FinalCon (Austin Critics’ Table nomination) and Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart. He is an artist affiliated with the National New Play Network and the Playwrights’ Center. Drew holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in Drama Writing from the University of Texas-Austin, where he was a James Michener Fellow.

Drew Paryzer is an immersive storytelling resident

Drew Paryzer

Daniel Sabio is a Puerto Rican new media conceptual artist, programmer, and designer whose work focuses primarily on the immersive performance and installation arts and is driven by a research-based approach balanced with an understanding of emotional and transformational responses to an artistic experience. Their work has been hosted internationally at the International Electronic Art Symposium, South by Southwest, Bass Coast, VRHAM !, FILE and Ars Electronica, and has been exhibited in galleries in New York, Berlin and Tokyo. Their collaborations and group work have supported Brainfeeder’s Little Snake (with Ommatidium Studios) and members of the legendary Japanese experimental group Boredoms (with Cosmic Lab). Sabio holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Media from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Daniel Sabio is an immersive storytelling resident

Daniel Sabio

Darren Woodland, Jr. combines digital technology, storytelling and design to create entertaining and informative experiences. As a multimedia artist and musician, he focuses on interactive media, immersive technology, sound design and storytelling. Woodland has a background in education and research in media arts, sound and music, and games. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Carolina in Media Arts / Art Studio and a Masters of Art and Design from North Carolina State University in Experimental Media Arts. In the near future, he will be working towards a doctorate. in digital media from Drexel University.

Darren Woodland, Jr. is a resident of Immersive Storytelling

Darren Woodland, Jr.

Lawrence Yip is an XR developer focused on character-driven experiences and storytelling. His beginnings in immersive entertainment began as an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, where he helped establish the first virtual reality lab on campus and integrated faculty and students with new technology. He has since moved on to independent development creating various augmented reality / virtual reality (AR / VR) storytelling experiences for business and entertainment applications. Her work includes a children’s book in mobile AR, a virtual reality medical case study, and a virtual reality introspective with magical realism. It aims to innovate on ways to enhance character immersion and embodiment to tell more impactful, immersive stories. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from Stony Brook University and also studied at the Vancouver Film School in AR / VR development.

Lawrence Yip is an immersive storytelling resident

Lawrence Yip

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