Virtual Reality Lab

Prof. Peter Decherney

FALL 2018
Wed 2-5pm
Goldstein Electronic Classroom, Van Pelt Library

TAs: Sonari Chidi and Melesande McLaughlin

This course mixes virtual reality theory, history, and practice. We will read a wide range of scholarship, manifestoes, and memoirs that examine virtual reality and other immersive technologies, stretching from the 18th century to today. We will explore virtual reality projects, including narrative and documentary films, commercial applications, and games. We will work with many of the virtual reality systems available today (as well as some that are obsolete). And finally, we will learn the basics of creating virtual reality, making fully immersive 3-D, 360-degree films with geospatial soundscapes. In the second part of the class, we will take what we have learned out of the classroom, working with Philadelphia organizations to make collaborative documentaries about the experience of refugees who have been resettled in the US. This is an ABSC course offered in partnership with Penn’s Netter Center. 

All readings are online and available through the course website.

Class attendance and in-class assignments (20%).

An Annotated Bibliography (30%)
Your annotated bibliography must pose a narrow question about refugees. You may focus on a particular population or event or you may focus on a question that is applicable across more than one refugee situation. Then choose the 10 sources that best help you answer your question. Sources should be journal articles, book chapters, and primary documents. You may use newspaper articles or blog entries , but be sure that they contain either new information or significant analysis. An article or blog entry that simply reports the outcome of a court case, for example, is not acceptable. It would be better to use the decision itself. You may not use encyclopedias, reference works, textbooks, or assigned readings as sources. And you may not use more than one chapter from the same book. Write 500-word summaries of each source, noting (1) the argument or findings, (2) the methodology, and (3) how it helps answer your question. Final bibliographies should be emailed to

A Completed Virtual Reality Film (50%)
A collaboratively-made virtual reality film that you will shoot and edit during the second half of the course.



Aug 29

In-class reading, viewing, and discussion:
Ivan Sutherland, “The Ultimate Display”
D.W. Griffith, “Five Dollar Movies Prophesied”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph”
Chris Milk, “How Virtual Reality Can Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine”
Arora and Milk, “Clouds Over Sidra”
Decherney and Lee, “Glimpses of Kalobeyei”

Camera Workshop

Sept 5 

Read & Watch (before class):
Andre Bazin, “The Myth of Total Cinema”
Morton Heilig, “The Cinema of the Future”
William Gibson, “Academy Leader”
J.C.R. Licklider “Man-Computer Symbiosis”
David Ewalt, Defying Reality, chs 1-3.
film: Douglas Trumbull, Brainstorm (1983)

In-class Projects and Sound Workshop

Sept 12

Abdi Nor Iftin, Call Me American [excerpts]
Hannah Beech, “When a Baby is an Everyday Reminder of Rohingya Horror” 
Hannah Beech, “The Rohingya Suffer Real Horrors. So Why Are Some of Their Stories Untrue”
Ben Solomon,  “Race Against the Rains”

Guest Speaker: Rod Coover

Sept 19 (no class Yom Kippur)

Due: email a research question for your annotated bibliography by Friday Sept 21

Sept 26

Camera workshop and Practice Shoot

Your assignment:

Shoot a 3-shot virtual reality documentary about a place. Will will edit it later. Your film must have a narrative and a progression from one shot to the next. Tell a story and create a character. A few more conditions:

— One of the three shot should be in the middle of the action—whatever that is in your context.

— Another shot should create identification with a subject. Generally, you would keep the camera 2-3 feet from there subject an at eye level.

  No restrictions on the third shot (and they don’t have to be in this order).

 —Only use the camera sound (don’t use an external mic or recorder). 

Oct 3

Guest Speaker: David Polinchock

Read: Bailenson, Experience on Demand [excerpts]

Due: list of 10 potential sources for annotated bib

Oct 10

Guest Speaker: Blair Sackett

editing workshop

Oct 17

Guest Speaker: Alex Miller

Due: annotated bibliographies


Oct 24  planning

Oct 31 – interviews

Nov 7  shooting

Nov 14 – shooting

Nov 21 – no class, Friday schedule)

Nov 28 – rough drafts screened in-class

Dec 5 – final projects screened in-class