Fort Worth Campus Set to Debut Prototype Stage for Texas A&M’s Groundbreaking Virtual Production Institute

The "extended reality" market is projected to be a $10.3 billion industry in 2024. To prepare students for it, a new Virtual Production Institute will be part of the Texas A&M School of Performance, Visualization, and Fine Arts.

David Parrish, a visual effects veteran and director of the program in Fort Worth, said the institute positions the university as a leader in research and next-gen workforce development.

The Texas A&M University system has launched a “first-of-its-kind” institute that will integrate real-world scenarios and the latest in extended reality technology to advance problem-solving and support workforce development across industries.

The new Virtual Production Institute will be part of the Texas A&M School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts. It will be based on the Bryan-College Station campus with an extension at the new Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus, the system said. The system’s board of regents approved establishing the institute earlier this month.

“Thanks to the support of the Texas Legislature, the Virtual Production Institute will expand our ability to prepare students for the jobs of the future like never before,” Texas A&M President Gen. (Ret.) Mark A. Welsh III said in a statement. “With the leading visualization program in the state of Texas, the launch of this institute builds on our expertise to drive workforce development leveraging the latest technologies, supporting the state’s efforts to lead in multiple industries.”

Preparing students for a $10.3B ‘extended reality’ industry

The university said that funding for institute faculty, staff, and equipment to support performance capture, large-scale mixed-reality environments, tech-infused classrooms, and high-performance computing and instrumentation was provided as a special item by the 88th Texas Legislature at $25 million. It received strong support from the state’s growing media and entertainment industry, the university said.

The extended reality market is projected to be a $10.3 billion industry nationwide this year, the university noted.

At the institute, students will learn the art and science of the development and applied use of extended reality—which incorporates augmented and virtual reality, display technology, sensing technology, artificial intelligence, real-time 3D graphics and simulation—using the latest technology that will prepare them for an expanding Texas job market, A&M said.

The institute will support enhanced curriculum across the university as other schools and departments tap into virtual production capabilities that align with changing workforce needs, the university said.

The institute’s reach will extend beyond media and entertainment, branching into training and development across industries, and creating digital twins of real-world objects and environments.

Addressing a workforce gap

A&M said it will collaborate with industry members to provide hands-on experience to students and explore new applications for virtual production, said Tim McLaughlin, interim dean of the Texas A&M School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts.

“The Virtual Production Institute creates an interdisciplinary ecosystem that will meet industry needs in media and entertainment, health care, the military, first responders, manufacturing, aerospace and live entertainment, among other uses,” McLaughlin added in a statement. “There’s currently a workforce gap impeding a more rapid and broader adoption of virtual production. Our plan includes addressing that gap and exploring new ways to use the technology.”

Prototype stage coming to Fort Worth by fall

Plans include building virtual production prototype stages in Bryan-College Station and Fort Worth by the fall and larger production stages by January. The university said a minor in virtual production and related courses in its Visualization program are being planned to start this fall, with classes offered both at the main campus in Bryan-College Station and in Fort Worth.

The university said that virtual production stages create more advanced visuals than green-screen technology allows by incorporating an LED wall showing computer-generated imagery to create immersive environments. Augmented reality, in which additional effects and structures are used in tandem with performers in front of the LED wall, creates enhanced visual effects.

Using extended reality to solve challenges

David Parrish, a 28-year visual effects veteran with Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Reel FX, was named director of the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts at Texas A&M-Fort Worth.

“We have the opportunity to put in a facility not only to train students on how to succeed and thrive in that kind of environment, but also to be utilized by industry professionals,” Parrish said in a statement. “There’s an opportunity for our virtual production setups to be a major benefit in the entertainment industry and provide students with access to technology that is going to prepare them so well in any number of facets. It’s also more than entertainment, with collaboration and utilization across a number of industries that will benefit from this technology.”

Parris said the institute positions Texas A&M as a leader in research and in educating the future workforce to use extended reality technology to solve challenges across industries.

“Texas A&M and the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts are in an excellent position to make a big impact with the Virtual Production Institute,” McLaughlin added. “We have the breadth of expertise to cover a wide range of applications. We have strong support from our industry and civic partners. And we have clever, creative and motivated students. The alignment of need, technology development and support make this the right time to launch the institute.”

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