[Student Spotlight] Andrew P. Alderete, Using VR for Spectacular Entertainment Experiences
The XR Development with Unity course from Circuit Stream is a project-based 10-week live online course, where students learn the fundamentals of augmented and virtual reality development with Unity game engine.
In this segment of our Student Spotlight series, we chat with Andrew P. Alderete — a multimedia freelancer in filmmaking entertainment industry. Andrew didn't have any XR experience prior taking the Circuit Stream course.
Andrew is also finishing up Interaction and Prototyping Design course which is aimed at designers, artists, and creators who aren't fond of programming.
Andrew Alderete is an independent producer based out of Boulder, Colorado with extensive experience in the entertainment industry. After graduate school at CalArts for Film, working in Hollywood for many years at Universal Pictures then at Trigger Street Productions, Andrew pivoted to live entertainment working exclusively with CineConcerts for the past five years - one of the leading producers of live music experiences performed with visual media. It was there he found a home for his love of film music, and movies. From The Harry Potter™ Film Concert Series, The Polar Express in Concert, Gladiator Live, The Godfather in Concert and more, CineConcerts has engaged over 2.5 million people with over 1,600 performances in 48 countries worldwide.
Rudy in Concert, Los Angeles Premiere (Photo: Timothy Norris)
What are film concerts, you ask? Live performances in which an orchestra plays the entire score to a film that’s being projected onto a big movie screen in the concert hall! For example, imagine watching Gladiator, but instead of hearing Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard’s music coming out of the theater’s speakers, you’re hearing a complete orchestra perform it live to picture. It is truly a complete immersion in not only the film, but also the music.
In Andrew’s own words, his “primary focus is always trying to re-define people’s experiences with sound and the moving image.” In fact, many of these experiments were born out of his love for film music and the cinematic language exhibited in his personal experimental film work.
This also led to the development of CineConcerts +PLUS, a free streaming platform dissecting the relationship between sound & image curated by much of his editing work, and Discover Film Music on the CineConcerts website.
And that’s what led him to new horizons in XR.
Andrew’s Journey into XR
At first, Andrew got into XR for purely practical reasons: CineConcerts was trying to think up new ways for presenters to save money by hosting virtual photo ops in their respective lobbies. To start, Andrew started working with artists and developers to help implement AR photo ops within the CineConcerts app, in which audience members could take photos and share them on social media.
Andrew began collaborating with artists who worked in Unity and Maya, but quickly came up against a roadblock: he *“didn’t really understand the foundation of XR and design.” *To put it simply, “that was driving [him] crazy.”
He needed to speak the same language.
He also realized that there was a knowledge gap, and as a very visual and creative person, he wanted to do his best to gain new skills that he could apply to the types of XR experiences that he personally enjoys.
Beyond all else, Andrew found himself struggling with the tech behind XR. “The challenging part is that the tech is changing so fast, and it’s so frequent, and there are limitations with the hardware,” which made it difficult for him to bring the visions in his mind into the real world.
“In your mind, it looks perfect,” said Andrew, “and then when you try to apply it to something, it’s not so perfect because, you know, the machine can’t render it that fast, or there might be a new version coming out, or a new API is released, and everything changes, right? Or even Unity updates, and things break.”
However, these challenges are a double-edged sword.
“The most rewarding part is figuring all that stuff out...Being able to build your first app that actually works and plays, and you put on the headset, and you see it, and you’re like ‘wow, I actually made this,’ it’s like nothing compares to that feeling of being able to get something made.”
Overcoming Obstacles With Circuit Stream
To surmount the challenges that Andrew was faced with, he turned to Circuit Stream and signed up for the Intro to C#, XR Dev, and the Interaction Design and Prototyping course. He also plans on continuing his XR education with Project Accelerator early next year.
What was his experience like? In short, “Circuit Stream is awesome.”
Between the online classes and the weekly one-on-one sessions, Andrew was able to develop his XR skills quickly and enjoyed the process from start to finish.
“Every student gets one-on-one time with someone for an hour a week, and that has been really valuable...if you’re working on a side project that you’re building in tandem with stuff that you’re working on in class, you can talk about it, you can share your screen...that has really been invaluable. I came in with zero experience, and the support for truly learning has been truly remarkable.”
Plus, he enjoys the strong student community at Circuit Stream.
“Everyone is really knowledgeable and awesome and friendly. I feel like Circuit Stream is like a small close-knit family on Slack. You get to know the other students and instructors...and that’s been really, really fun. You also inherently learn through everyone’s experience.”
Andrew has also been very happy with the fact that office hours are available even to alumni, so students can continue building their skills and learning with Circuit Stream even after they finish the course.
“[It’s] truly amazing. I don’t know any other resource like that in this space that does something similar.”
Andrew’s Circuit Stream Projects
During Andrew’s time at Circuit Stream, he developed several projects ranging from abstract virtual environments with shaders to a spaceship shooter game, and even experimenting with virtual concert environments inspired by the ongoing Harry Potter™ Film Concert Series series with CineConcerts.
“It’s figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and what the Oculus can actually physically do as a piece of hardware, that’s just part of the fun with Circuit Stream.”
Looking Toward the Future
After Andrew graduates from Circuit Stream, he hopes to use his newfound XR skills and knowledge to continue redefining not only the concert experience, but the human experience.
“If you’re physically at a concert hall, it hits you, and it moves you in some way you can’t define, you have an emotional response to that, and I’m very interested in trying to redefine that not only in the concert space, but anywhere. So, ideally, I would love to have virtual concerts, and a virtual exploration of sounds & image.”
Andrew dreams of virtually transporting audiences from around the world to different concert venues, such as the Colosseum or the Royal Albert Hall, in part to allow people who don’t have close access to these world famous destinations to experience them all the same.
Gladiator Live in Rome
Beyond that, Andrew also hopes to experiment with his new 3D canvas to bring his artistic and creative visions to life. “To be able to really manipulate everything about the environment that you’re in virtually is really, really exciting.” Above all else, he wants to apply XR to the music/film space that he is already passionately exploring.
Andrew’s Big Takeaway
Before Circuit Stream, Andrew was experimenting with AR applications, but he felt himself lacking a foundational knowledge of XR design. He was struggling to get full control of the tech behind XR and use it to bring his creative visions to life.
During his time at Circuit Stream, Andrew started from ground zero, and became more comfortable in XR and developed several different projects that helped him test the boundaries of the technology and understand what HMDs, like the Oculus, are capable of.
As Andrew wraps up the Interaction and Prototyping Design course, he has gained a new set of skills that will allow him to explore his interest in the interplay between music and film more deeply. He hopes to not only expand his current film concert series to a wider audience, but to experiment with this new technology to see what he can come up with as an artist, and creative producer.
“Being able to take my insane creative ideas and apply them in a 3D space that’s not just an illustrator canvas or something 2D on your screen...is really, really exciting.”
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