The rankings are in, and the reality is that NYU Tandon is among the best places in the country to study AR/VR
NYU Tandon’s Integrated Design & Media (IDM) program has long made the school a top choice for anyone wanting to study various forms of emerging media — and in 2021 that definitely includes augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).
This year, Animation Career Review published its first-ever rankings of the country’s AR/VR programs, and Tandon landed squarely at the top: number 2 on the East Coast and number 5 nationwide. The rankings took into consideration academic reputation, selectivity, and return on investment, among other factors, but that barely scratches the surface of what makes IDM so special.
“Obviously being in Brooklyn, which is a major hub of creativity and innovation, is significant,” Scott Fitzgerald, who co-directs the program, says. “But what also sets us apart is that we’re working directly at the intersection of art and technology, and there’s no better place to do that than at an engineering school. Students who come to us focused on art and design learn to be unintimidated by coding and other tech skills, and tech-focused students learn to unleash their creative instincts. We really present the best of both worlds.”
Valuable industry partnerships
It isn’t just the editors of Animation Career Review who see the benefits of an IDM degree; the program has forged numerous industry partnerships, and, arguably, among the most exciting has been one with Epic Games, makers of the mega-selling Fortnite.
With funding through an Epic MegaGrant IDM faculty developed a suite of online courses for filmmakers, content directors, producers, technologists, and students who want to work with the Unreal Engine, a suite of tools that allows for the creation of cutting-edge entertainment, compelling visualizations, and immersive virtual worlds. Considered the most advanced and powerful platform of its kind, it has been used by the makers of not only Fortnite, but blockbuster movies like The Mandalorian and countless architects and car designers, among other professionals.
The course has attracted employees of Disney Imagineering, Industrial Light & Magic, Amazon Web Services, T-Mobile, and the New York Times, among other high-profile companies, and more is in the works, including a worldbuilding course in which participants will explore relationships to nature in virtual worlds, and another focused on mixed reality filmmaking and the key issues, challenges, and best practices of visual storytelling.
The faculty factor
IDM faculty members include some of the most forward-thinking practitioners in the AR/VR space:
Technical Director Todd Bryant, globally recognized as a leading video artist, engineer, and educator whose cutting-edge work and curricula include projects in motion capture, project mapping, and spatial media experiences. He has provided technical direction for projects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Burning Man, and Brooklyn Academy of Music, and has collaborated with HBO, Childish Gambino, Nike, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Jose Cuervo, among other companies.
Industry Professor Carla Gannis, whose own darkly comical virtual and physical works have been shown at such august institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Hudson River Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Hermitage Museum, and have been featured in several major outlets, including Wired, FastCo, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.
Industry Associate Professor Mark Skwarek, who organized the first augmented-reality artist group, manifest.AR, as well as the We AR in MoMA exhibit. A social activist, he has a long record of international AR work, ranging from “erasing” the DMZ battlements between North and South Korea to the virtual elimination of the barricades between Palestine and Israel, at the Gaza Strip.
Industry Assistant Professor Regine Gilbert’s area of focus is user experience and accessibility. The author of the 2019 volume Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind, she wants accessibility baked right into the AR/VR curriculum and that students make sure that as many people as possible can experience what they’re creating.
Adjunct Professor James Hosken, who has described himself as a filmmaker, visual effects artist, interactive tinkerer and spaceship enthusiast has been developing 3D environments that draw on natural environments for inspiration.
Adjunct Professor Leah Roh, who builds computer-generated experiences that explore the ways in which interactive technologies can bridge the gap between visual art and pop culture.
Adjunct and former Visiting Professor Kat Sullivan, who has developed a practice incorporating dance and motion capture, along with other emerging technologies, has been engaging with art and design professionals across the world.
Adjunct Professor Matthew Rader, whose agency helped to establish the GIF as a photographic medium commercially and editorially and whose clients include Adidas, Nike, Facebook, Stella McCartney, Chobani, Spotify, MasterCard, Kool-Aid, Ray-Ban, MTV, and Vice Media, among others.
The proof is in the projects
In recent years, each of the students in the program has received an Oculus Rift, allowing them to continue learning and creating, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition to creating, our students connect through their art, making AR/VR much more than just an exciting technology,” Carla Gannis asserts. “There are very social and emotional elements to it. Consider a senior project like “Are You Still Watching” by Melissa Canavan, which enables users to gain an understanding of what it means to suffer from deep depression. Linyun Zhang created for her thesis project a virtual IDM campus on a social VR platform, so their avatars could hang out even though they, themselves, were scattered around the globe.”
View more student projects on the IDM Spring Showcase