The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has begun to introduce a visual effects curriculum, which aims to teach students about special effects in film as well as re-creating New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport in virtual reality.

This program has come about as a result of the university receiving a $920,000 award from Louisiana’s Entertainment Development Fund. In addition to furthering the education of students, the program intends to also push Louisiana’s status in the entertainment production industry.

“The UL Lafayette initiative is intended to enhance the state’s position as a visual FX production hub via industry-advised professional development and sophisticated VR promotion of Louisiana’s diverse locations and state-of-the-art infrastructure. With the award, the university will receive $184,000 a year for five years to cover instructional and infrastructure development costs,” the university’s website says.

Arun Kulshreshth, assistant professor in the school of computing and informatics, is the principal investigator of the visual effects grant. He spoke further on the program, stating that the university has already started introducing some new concepts from it into the existing courses this semester.

“It’s not like a separate program being offered. It’s something offered to our existing students in our classes here in our department,” Kulshreshth said.

He spoke on the two main components of the program.

“One of them is curriculum development which is to train people for film production related activities and designing visual effects and things like that. The other component is developing a location scouting solution in VR,” Kulshreshth said.

As the program deals with both film and creating virtual reality, the university is looking to get different departments involved. The Moving Image Arts program is currently a part of the program, and discussions are ongoing about how to get the College of Arts involved.

The virtual reality component of the program involves re-creating New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport, allowing film studios and producers to scout out these locations from anywhere in the world.

“In-state expenditure on film production activity is $366 million in 2021. That’s a big amount and we want to attract more people from Hollywood to come here and shoot more movies. Of course, they would need some workforce to help them out with some visual effects and selecting a location for them and things like that. So that’s what this project is about, to provide them with local workforce,” Kulshreshth said.

The locations in VR are also to be augmented with further information, such as the costs or licenses involved with shooting at a particular location. Much of the data for creating these spaces will come from satellite data. Currently, the university is talking to Maxar Technologies about using their data, which is the company responsible for providing the satellite data for Google.

This project is slated to be completed by 2027, but there is a possibility of continuing the project afterwards and expanding it to include other cities in virtual reality.

Kulshreshth closed by sharing that the students involved in the project may have some internship opportunities with the university’s industry collaborators, which will be announced through department emails when available.

“This is also a good opportunity for them to work with the industry on a real problem,” Kulshreshth said.