About a month back, VR Dribble was awarded a scholarship through @vrgrls for our very own Janessa White to attend Oculus Connect 2, a virtual reality conference occurring next week in Hollywood. In response to our post, we received a wide variety of comments: votes of support, hoorah's of encouragement and a lot of vehement replies stating that the scholarship is gender biased in nature and a person receiving a scholarship based on sex is 'old fashioned' and 'unfair'. Due to the heated conversation, we decided to follow-up with Paisley Smith & Julie Young, founders of @vrgrls and the power minds behind the Women in VR Scholarship, to find out why they think bringing women together in this fast-paced and emerging industry is important.
Tell us a bit about yourselves. Who are you and what are your experiences/goals in the VR world?
P: I’m Paisley - I am a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts MFA Film and Television program in Los Angeles. I am passionate about documentaries, and media for kids... anything that encourages the viewer to ask questions and use their imagination. I am currently creating a VR experience with the National Film Board of Canada. VR is an opportunity to tell stories that are truly experienced.
J: My name is Julie Young. I'm a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied business. Having come from a finance background, I am passionate about working with artists to make their visions financially viable. I love VR and currently work at Emblematic Group producing content as well as managing the company's finances.
You two met through Emblematic Group, correct? What was it like working with that organization? with Nonny?
P: Julie and I met at Emblematic Group, founded by ‘Godmother of VR,’ Nonny de la Pena. Nonny’s work focuses on real world stories told in Virtual Reality, and use the presence created in VR to create empathy in the viewer. By putting someone in a powerful real world scenario, they become a witness and an active participant in the events. Working with Nonny is an incredible experience because she takes on extremely challenging projects that make audiences stop and think.
J: Yep, we met at Emblematic Group. Working here is amazing. Nonny is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, and I feel very lucky to be able to work for her. She challenges me and encourages me to think outside the box.
What do you love about VR? What motivates you to keep promoting VR and creating content?
P: There is something quite incredible about watching people experience powerful stories in VR. After demoing Nonny’s work around the world, and observing people from all different backgrounds and experiences take off the goggles and reflect on what they just experienced - that is the most powerful element of VR. If you aren’t a VR believer, you just have to watch people come out of Project Syria. We have seen people cry, hug their loved ones, get angry, write reflections - these reactions are powerful. Creating a story that is memorable, that moves an audience, that makes real change is a goal of most storytellers, and the reason I personally can’t get enough of VR.
J: I have always been in love with storytelling of all forms - music, spoken word, theater, film, etc. However, VR is unmatched in terms of its potential as a storytelling medium - nothing is more powerful than feeling like you are truly present, experiencing something firsthand. That is what makes VR so special and motivates me to continue trying to figure out how to best use it for storytelling.
What was the impetus to start @vrgrls?
P: Under Nonny’s wing, Julie and I began to travel to VR meet ups, events, conferences and festivals, meeting fabulous people all over the world. VRGirls grew out of a desire to create an inspiring community and to share our knowledge with others. We realize that many people who want to create stories in VR do not have a role model like Nonny sharing her knowledge, or the access to the tech itself.
J: We wanted to create a community where we could connect women who work in or are interested in VR. In a male-dominated world like technology, it is important for a community like this to exist.
What’s the motivation in bringing women to OC2? Why is it important for women to be encouraged to participate in this industry?
P: The goal of VRGRLS is to celebrate women creating in Virtual Reality and to make a network of awesome creators. The Oculus Connect scholarship is our first push for a VRGRLS outreach program. By having the Virtual Reality Girls together at Oculus Connect, we will create a strong network, make amazing connections, learn, and inspire the community.