The Hacking XR Speaker Series is offered in Spring 2019, in conjunction with the MIT class Hacking XR: VR and Immersive Media Production (CMS.339/839), and the MIT Open Documentary Lab.


Free and open to the public.

Reservations recommended.


February 19th

1:30pm - E15-330

“In works like Clouds over Sidra and The Last Goodbye, Gabo Arora has established himself as one of VR’s modern masters, bringing a keen understanding of film language to politically charged work.”

- Scott Macaulay, Editor-in-Chief, Filmmaker magazine

How does one create compelling and relevant immersive experiences? VR/AR are quickly expanding. In less than 4 years, this nascent field has seen focus shift from 360 videos, to interactive CGI immersive worlds, to 6 degrees of freedom and explorations of AI. We take a look at what it takes to create relevant with emerging platforms, in discovering the work of VR pioneer Gabo Arora. -

Heralded by LA times as "game-changing" and "transcending all the typical barriers of rectangular cinema", Arora's widely acclaimed VR documentaries have premiered major film festivals around the world. Gabo is an award-winning immersive artist, filmmaker and Founder/Creative Director of LightShed, a content, technology and research studio collaborating with the industry’s leading creative pioneers and entrepreneurs focused exclusively on emerging technologies currently known as VR, AR and AI. He is also a professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he leads and is Founding Director of the new Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technologies (ISET) program and lab. Gabo’s recent VR experience, Zikr: A Sufi Revival, World Premiered at Sundance 2018, with Newsweek calling it “the most transcendental experience of the festival” and was the first-ever VR documentary to be sold and acquired (by Dogwoof) in Sundance’s history."

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February 25th

1:30pm - E15-335

SOUND: 1st RULE OF IMMERSION - Jean Pascal Beaudoin

HeadSpace Studio


Some say sound is 50% of immersion in VR but also AR and XR. How does it translate to new platforms? How should we think of music, sound, audio and texture in immersive media productions? With its patented sound design, HeadSpace Studio has been designing sound spaces and 360 environments for pioneering experiences in immersive media.

Along with longtime collaborators Felix & Paul Studios, he is a recognized creative and technology leader in cinematic VR. He co-founded Headspace Studio, the first sound studio entirely focused on virtual reality content. In 2018, the studio expanded to Los Angeles. With Headspace Studio, Jean-Pascal has worked with important partners on projects such as the Daytime Emmy® Award-winning Cirque du Soleil’s Inside the Box of Kurios, Jurassic World: Apatosaurus, the Primetime Emmy® Award-winning The People's House: Inside the White House with Barack and Michelle Obama, Space Explorers, a VR series made in collaboration with NASA and SpaceX, as well as Isle of Dogs: Behind the Scenes (in VR) in collaboration with Wes Anderson.


Eliza McNitt and Jess Engel, Spheres

March 6th

12:00pm - E15-330

So you have an idea for an immersive experience…But how does one create worlds that are simultaneously compelling, immersive and comfortable for a user? What about interaction design? Pacing? Music and tone setting? What about aesthetics and narrative approaches? A full walk-through of the Award-Winning project Spheres, a 45min 3 part interactive VR series that lets you discover the sounds of space. Winner for best Immersive Experience, Venice Mostra del Cinema 2018.

Eliza McNitt, is an award-winning writer-director working closely with scientists, she fuses narrative storytelling with science to explore the human connection with the cosmos, in such VR works as Fistful of Stars and the upcoming SPHERES.

Jess Engel is a new media storyteller and producer, focused on story-driven VR and AR experiences, films, and digital content. As founder of Crimes of Curiosity, Engel, alongside Darren Aronofsky’s company Protozoa Pictures and VR studio AtlasV, produced Eliza McNitt’s Spheres. Prior, Engel was Director of Original Content at WITHIN, where she executive produced Tyler Hurd’s Chorus and produced Zach Richter’s Hallelujah, made using Lytro’s cutting-edge technology. Before WITHIN, she produced Eliza McNitt’s Fistful of Stars. Engel also served as Creative Executive at Electric City Entertainment, working on films including Captain Fantastic and The Place Beyond The Pines. She is a Sundance New Frontier fellow and mentor.

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April 1st

6pm - 8pm, MediaLab, E14 LH-633


Pioneer Doug Trumbull


Stepping back to better step forward... Doug Trumbull is a true immersive media pioneer, a filmmaker and a visual effects visionary. His work spanning decades have helped us foresee the future of immersive technology, languages and media. We owe him the special effects of landmark productions that have tinted the way we all imagine the future. From 2001: A Space Odyssey, to other classics as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner, all of which earned him multiple Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects.


Doug Trumbull is also the recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. He is currently involved in the evolution of visual effects using virtual digital sets and electronic cinematography.


Yelena Rachitsky and Isabel Tewes, 


April 8

1:30 pm - E15-330

Rethinking the rules of immersive storytelling. Representing reality is not just about "looking real". It is about how we design, create and share with knowledge, feelings and senses. Immersive storytelling at Oculus has evolved from pioneering work of StoryStudios, to tools, games, and narrative-driven experiences. Learn from the diverse approaches of Oculus Landmark productions.


Yelena Rachitsky is Executive Producer of Experiences at Oculus, overseeing dozens of groundbreaking, narrative-driven VR projects that range from Pixar's first VR project to original independent work. Prior to Oculus, she was the Creative Producer at Future of Storytelling (FoST), which aims to change how people communicate and tell stories in the digital age. Yelena also helped program for the Sundance Film Festival and Institute's New Frontier program and spent four years in the documentary division at Participant Media, working on films like Food Inc. and Waiting for Superman. She's passionate about big creative ideas that will make technology meaningful.


Isabel Tewes leads the Enterprise Platform Strategy for Facebook AR/VR, working to push forward the use of immersive technology at work. She has worked closely with VR developers at Oculus, including Google, VRChat, Bigscreen, Alt Space, and Virtual Desktop. Previous to Oculus, she worked with iOS developers of Photo & Video and Social Networking apps, including Facebook, Snapchat, Adobe, and others. Her driving interest is to study and enable new technologies to make us more creative and find new ways for us to collaborate.


April 23nd

12pm - E15-330


Coline Delbaere, DVGROUP


What’s new in immersive trends? New immersive VR/AR/XR storytelling forms are currently trending, with Location-Based VR (LBVR), multi-user and multi sensory strategies guiding the entertainment industry to explore cross-overs with theatre and game-design. Some extraordinary location-based experiences include DV-Groups acclaimed projects Alice, Jack, The Horrifically Real Virtual Reality and their most recent: The Roamings.

Coline Delbaere, Producer, began as a multi-disciplinary cultural programmer, and worked as a producer for a record label, later for a theater company, and film shoots. In 2017, she joined DVgroup, where she works with original content for VR productions, involving actors from a multitude of artistic disciplines. Delbaere has played a key role in world acclaimed immersive theater installations : Alice, the Virtual Reality Play (2017), The Horrifically Real Virtuality (2018), The Roaming: Wetlands (2018), Umami (2018), and PLAY! (2018 - with musician Roscius and choreographers of I could Never be a dancer). 

Mathieu Pradat, Author and director, focuses his practice on the growing interaction between virtual and real worlds. He explores linear and interactive narrative forms. His short and documentary fictions have been selected and awarded at numerous festivals in France and around the world, including Venice Virtual - The Venice Film Festival, the Geneva International Film Festival, the Frankfurt Biennial, the Locarno Film Festival and the Mostra de São Paulo. He is launching the room scale in VR fiction THE GHOST OF AMELIE (Camera Lucida) and a large field VR project THE ROAMING 




Pete Billington, FABLE

April 30th

12pm - E15-330


Is VR just a tool for entertainment? How does interaction, innovation and magic converge to create original works? Recent trends have been experimenting with AI to create seemingness interactions with virtual characters. The recent work Wolves in the Walls has been heralded as a hallmark moment for immersive and interactive storytelling.

As co-founder of FABLE, Pete Billington has explored how interaction, innovation and magic converge to create original works. His years spent working with, and learning from, the most progressive and technically daring filmmakers of our time have led him to virtual reality. In his recent work Wolves in the Walls, the director, writer, artist, and immersive storyteller explores how to emotionally bond with the audience through interaction, AI innovation, and a little fable magic.

May 7th

12pm - E15-330


Andrew Mitrak, HaptX


How do we extend other human senses? This year has been a game changer in appearance and resurgence of haptic devices, and exploration of new senses in immersive experience. How do we bring touch, heat, cold to VR?


Andrew Mitrak is the Director of Marketing at HaptX, the startup bringing touch to virtual reality. Prior to HaptX, Andrew produced marketing videos for companies including Microsoft, Hasbro, and AT&T. One of his VR pieces with HaptX debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Andrew earned his Master’s in Communication from the University of Washington in Seattle.



May 14th

12pm - E15-330


What’s the experience for the visitor/user? What about comfort, hardware? What’s new in immersive headsets? A special visit from the Varjo Team!


See virtual and mixed reality as clearly as you see the real world. With their latest funding round, led by Atomico and joined by Next47, the Finnish company VARJO is on track to deliver the world’s first human-eye resolution VR product for complex and design-driven industries. A first step on the road to a completely new kind of computing - where VR and XR become a natural extension of the real world.