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Immersive Storytellers Craft Unique Experiences at the Intersection of Media, Health, Medicine and Scientific Discovery in Boston

The Boston Globe's STAT team, Brookline Interactive Group, and the Public VR Lab teamed up on three 360 films for Hubweek 2017.

[article originally posted on LinkedIn:]

In 2016, Jeff Delviscio, Director, Multimedia and Creative at the Boston Globe’s STAT news team, bumped into the executive director, Kathy Bisbee, of Brookline Interactive Group (BIG), where she was demoing VR to throngs of science journalists and media makers. He wanted to explore how his cutting-edge news team, STAT, focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine and scientific discovery, could tell compelling stories about medicine and science using 360 video or VR. Kathy had hoped to share BIG’s experience training and creating VR content with other media organizations.

Kathy had co-founded the Public VR Lab as part of her work at Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) an innovative community media center, and was creating AR, VR and 360 content with her team. The Lab had started planting the seeds for what would become “Community VR,” a local and national project and movement that would train journalists, filmmakers, creators, and storycoders to create VR in the public interest, based out of Brookline, MA and trained and collaborated with libraries, arts organizations and journalists. The Lab now has an affiliate program, and offers VR toolkits, equipment and a training program to VR creators, journalists, filmmakers, educators, and municipalities.

Together STAT, BIG and the Public VR Lab collaborated to produce three unique experiences in locations around Boston that resulted in three 360 films introducing Boston residents and viewers worldwide to what it might feel like to work in a high security lab on the Ebola virus in Boston’s NEIDL (National Emerging Infectious Diseases lab); or to better understand the experience of a Tufts Dental School student, and sense intense teamwork of the effective Boston Children’s Hospital’s infant trauma unit. All films were created in 360 video that can be watched online, in a VR headset, or even on your phone, and screened at Boston’s Hubweek in October 2017.

Read more and check out these unique experiences from the team at STAT, Brookline Interactive Group, and the Public VR Lab, written and documented below and online by Hyacinth Empinado, STAT News staffer.

[Team photo at Hubweek: STAT Director, Jeff Delviscio; BIG Lead Creative Designer, Nir Darom; STAT News staffer/editor, Hyacinth Empinado; BIG VR Coordinator, Josh Widdicombe]

What does it look like inside a level-4 biosafety lab? And what does it feel like to be inside an operating room, performing a delicate procedure on a critically ill child?

In the world of science and medicine, places like this are often reserved exclusively for highly trained specialists.

But immersive 360-degree videos can gives us all a better sense for what it’s like to see the world through these specialists’ eyes. In the videos below, originally produced for HUBweek in partnership with Brookline Interactive Group and the Public VR Lab, you can explore these spaces on your own screen. To look around, click on the videos with your mouse and move it in any direction.

Raising Ebola

Research on dangerous pathogens like Ebola takes place inside highly secure biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) labs. Elke Mühlberger, a researcher at the National Emerging Diseases Laboratory at Boston University, takes you as close to Ebola as you’ll ever get and talks about why she thinks of the deadly virus as her pet.

Open Wide

On any given day, rows of fake heads are on the receiving end of whirring drills at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Mikenah Vega, a fourth-year student, shows us how she preps her head (which she calls “my boyfriend Miguel”) for a day at the simulation clinic, where students learn all about our teeth. 

On any given day, rows of fake heads are on the receiving end of whirring drills at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, where students learn about teeth.

Code Blue

Watch a team of physicians, nurses, and surgeons simulate a high-risk procedure, called ECMO, on a critically ill child during a training session at Boston Children’s Hospital. ECMO is a machine that temporarily takes over a child’s weakened heart and lungs, giving him or her time to heal. To increase the child’s chances of survival, the team has to make every moment count.

About the Public VR Lab

The Public VR Lab facilitates public dialogue; provides professional training; empowers community knowledge and creation of 360, virtual and augmented content; provides access to tools, headsets, arcades, toolkits, and professional expertise; and generates locally-focused, broadly impactful, Next Realities experiences in the public interest.

The Lab has trained immersive journalists, filmmakers, educators and storycoders to use VR/AR/360; offers VR Toolkits of hardware, software and curriculum to nonprofits, arts organizations and libraries; and has collaborated to create VR content, events and training programs with the Boston Globe, the United Nations, Women in Next Realities, Boston VR, the Town of Brookline, and the Northampton Film Festival.

About STAT

STAT is a national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine and scientific discovery. We produce daily news, investigative articles, and narrative projects in addition to multimedia features. We tell our stories from the places that matter to our reader– research labs, hospitals, executive suites, and political campaigns.

Science & Medicine in FULL Frame

We’re thrilled to announce that Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) and our VR-in-the-Public-Interest project, the Public VR Lab, launched an innovative 360 video/VR immersive journalism collaboration with the #STAT team from the Boston Globe through this Sunday at Hubweek 2017.
BIG trained Boston Globe journalists from the STAT team on immersive storytelling production techniques, working side-by-side with them to create three day-in-the-life 360 experiences of Boston’s science and medical world. 
Come experience the infant trauma unit functioning under pressure at Boston’ s Children’s Hospital, view the activities of a student at Tuft’s Dental School, and watch firsthand how the world’s leading Ebola scientists work in a lab here in Boston to make Ebola “happy” in order to study how it grows and spreads.

Come find us at shipping Container #18 through Sunday!

Exposing New Realities: Immersive, Participatory Art, Games & Storytelling at the 2017 Northampton Film Festival

Immersive in Northampton

Immersive in Northampton(September 21st, 2017, Northampton, Mass.) The Northampton Film Festival will launch its second year of curated immersive content showcasing games, experiences and stories in VR, AR, 360, social media and participatory art-making at the A.P.E  Gallery at 126 Main Street, Northampton, MA on Saturday, September 30th, 2017, from 12-5pm.

This event is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis.

With the help of five local artists, Exposing Next Realities will be reflected in LIVE art-making throughout the day inside of Google’s Tiltbrush, a 3D tool for creating art inside of VR, by Robert Markey, Laurie Goddard, John Nordell, Gary Smith, and Lyn Sisler.

Local Pioneer Valley artists; Robert Markey, Laurie Goddard, John Nordell, Gary Smith, and Lyn Sisler will take part in LIVE painting inside of Virtual Reality. Attendees will watch Oscar-nominated VR film ‘Pearl’ and experience the immersive journalism piece ‘Across the Line’ about crossing a protest line at abortion clinics.

The 3D art will be preserved for community viewing during and after the festival. The community can also try Tiltbrush and create their own art or participate in collective virtual and “in-real-life” murals, as well as a new sculpting tool called Masterpiece VR that allows multiple artists to create simultaneously inside the same virtual space. The Pioneer Valley Game Developers will again host locally-developed games and experiences.

Boston-based artist Alexander Golob and interactive media artists from the Public VR Lab (co-founded by Brookline Interactive Group and Northampton Community Television) are coordinating interactive murals and art creation, providing the community an opportunity to create their own 3D and social media art through murals composed of hundreds of individual snapchats, #theSnapGallery.

By adding art to their compositions to the snaps with markers, visitors will bridge image-making techniques and traditions with digital age content creation. This interactive project demonstrates how everyone can be an artist and/or an activist, especially when combining voices into something larger than a single person, like a community art installation.

To participate in #theSnapGallery project, send your Snap submission to Alexander Golob  through his Instagram and Facebook pages (@AlexanderGolobArt) and through email (alexandergolobart at

Drop by Immersive @NFF on Saturday to play games with the Pioneer Valley Game group, experience virtual reality, and create art inside of Google’s Tiltbrush VR and Masterpiece VR’s artmaking tool.

Other Featured Immersive Experiences

Zen Parade is a surreal journey through a 360° 3D animated world of living sculptures – A five-minute psychedelic abstract art experience that can be enjoyed anytime to relax and rejuvenate.

In Allumette, you’re an invisible witness to a moving tale of dreams, love, and tragedy, set within a city nestled in the clouds, where a young girl and her mother sell matches that resemble sparklers. Everything goes well at first, but a tragic event completely changes the story’s tone. However, despite the melancholy vibe, it’s still a heartwarming experience.

Pearl is another 360 interactive story that follows a little girl (named Pearl) and her father as they both pursue their dreams. While short, it’s a remarkably powerful and inspiring tale. You’ll watch as Pearl grows on the road with her musician dad, starting off as a bubbly little child. Soon, she transforms into a teenager with a mind of her own and a love of making music. Pearl is an Oscar-nominated story you have to experience in VR in order to witness its full potential.

Across the Line VR ACROSS THE LINE is an immersive VR experience that combines 360 video and computer-generated imaging (CGI) to put viewers in the shoes of a patient entering a health center for a safe and legal abortion.

Tilt Brush is a room scale 3D painting virtual reality application developed and published by Google.

Masterpiece VR is the first art creation tool to feature collaborative functionality, allowing two users to sculpt at once. Four artists can paint and sculpt together simultaneously. That means that you and your friends—regardless of where they are in the world—can make 3D content together in real time.

Immersive Demos: Pioneer Valley Game Developers

VR Jogger | Sick Pixel

Color BlastAR | HitPoint Studios

Vanishing Point | Woodpenny


Public VR Lab

VR Academy Classes

BIG and the Public VR Lab are pleased to offer several classes in virtual reality this summer and fall.

WebVR with A-Frame

Want to make 3D websites? We’ll show you how in this two-session class! Instructors from Fasility will lead two sessions on how to make virtual reality for the web, also known as WebVR. We’ll use A-Frame, a popular and free framework from Mozilla that makes VR as easy and powerful as editing HTML.

Next sessions: September 7th & 14th 5:30-7:30pm – $50

Register here.

Designing for VR: Creating 3D objects with Blender
Blender is a free professional open-source 3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, and video games. This two-session introductory course will provide you with a basic understanding of using Blender, including creating basic shapes, color and rendering options, and modeling techniques.

Next sessions: TBD

Introduction to Unity
Unity is a powerful and widely-used game engine for developing VR experiences, as well as video games for consoles, mobile devices, and websites.
This 2-session workshop will introduce you to the basic functions and concepts of Unity and will provide you with the opportunity to do 3D modeling and coding through its systems.

Next session: Monday, October 23rd & 30th – $50

Unity – Basic Coding
Unity is a powerful and widely-used game engine for developing VR experiences, as well as video games for consoles, mobile devices, and websites.
This 2 session workshop will introduce you to the basic functions and concepts of Unity and will provide you with the opportunity to learn basic C# coding.

Next session: TBD

Creating VR Experiences With Simmetri –
Simmetri is an immersive design tool for creating interactive experiences for VR. In this one-session workshop taught by its lead developer, you will learn about the basics of Simmetri and create a mini-VR experience with your classmates. You will also export a 360 degree video of your creation for uploading to YouTube to share with friends.

In the class, we’ll learn the basics on using the tool and begin exploring and experimenting with various ideas.

For ages 14 and up

Next sessions: TBD

Illustration in VR: Using VR Doodler
Want to create a virtual reality experience? Not crazy about learning Unity? If you like to draw or tell stories, come learn how to use VR Doodler, an easy-to-use online tool that enables you to make a 3D drawing on the web that you can ultimately turn into a virtual reality story!

For ages 14 and up

Next sessions: TBD

What is Community VR?

What is Community VR? (the short version, for now)

Kathy Bisbee presenting on Community VR

Co-founder and Director of the Public VR Lab, Kathy Bisbee presenting on Community VR at NATOA 2017

I’m in the process of writing a longer article than this one about a new movement I hope you’ll join me to seed, fund, cultivate and grow. It’s called the Community VR movement. Like its sister movement, Community Media, it’s a movement where everyone can participate, create, learn, share and express. Where everyone’s stories matter, everyone is included, and everyone’s voices can be heard. It shares a goal of providing equitable access to media making tools, training, and in inspiring the next generation of journalists, filmmakers, creators and storytellers. The only thing it doesn’t have in common with community media is that it’s not yet ubiquitous or woven into our social, cultural, economic and public fabric. Yet.

The Public VR Lab is building an inclusive Community VR movement that will facilitate public dialogue; provide professional training; empower community knowledge and creation of 360, virtual and augmented content; provide access to tools, headsets, arcades, toolkits, and professional expertise; and generate locally-focused, broadly impactful, Next Realities experiences in the public interest. Here’s a recent highlight reel about our work at the Lab.

At the NATOA conference (the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors …) in Seattle this week, I was met with surprisingly-engaged enthusiasm from government employees who tried our HTC VIVE after my presentation and wanted to figure out how they could use VR and 360 in their communities. Colleagues began the process of signing up to become a Public VR Lab affiliate; others wanted to purchase our Public VR Lab Toolkits (VR demo and content creator toolkits); others still asked about our curriculum, equipment, staffing; and NATOA attendees from Alaska to Massachusetts inquired about applying to our national collaborative project called “Immigration Stories in Full Frame: Reimagining Migration.”

We have to be mindful not to make early mistakes as this new medium grows from infancy into its preteen years, assuring that equipment/headsets, powerful computers, and training programs are accessible to all, no matter your geography, income, gender, ethnicity, etc. We need to educate creators on the potentially troubling “virtual literacy” issues and ethics concerns inherent to this visceral medium; to the dangers of limiting our characters in VR to our own/current biases and roles; and to consider policies that hold VR/AR marketing, propaganda, access to the new currencies of the metaverse, and the use of public spaces in careful check with public interest needs.

A longer article will be published later this month on the implications of this work, my thoughts on the immediate challenges and opportunities, the projects we’ve set out to grow the movement in the next year, and ways you can help to support Community VR. Stay tuned!

Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) and Northampton Community Television (NCTV) launched this VR accessibility and literacy initiative at their community media centers in Northampton and Brookline, MA, beginning in April of 2016, and have expanded the Lab to grow a national network of Lab affiliates to work collaboratively to build a movement for Community VR. Please join us!

Become an affiliate of the Public VR Lab at your library, community media or arts organization, government agency, or newsroom, and be part of building the movement for Community VR. 

Brookline Town Hall in 360 Sketch

Two things to share today:

Google Expeditions

Excited to see this great tool for sharing VR experiences now open beyond education:

Google opens Expeditions VR education app to the public

In other news, our team created this super cool 360 illustration of Brookline Town Hall!

Brookline Town Hall 360° Sketch Video

Brookline Interactive Group is hiring!

Brookline Interactive Group, one of the community media arts centers houses the Public VR Lab’s work in the Boston area, is hiring an Assistant Director, a new position.

While our work at BIG is in predominantly in community media arts, the AD will be able to participate in rolling out our new model of community media in the VR /AR space, providing public accessibility and digital inclusion in this still nascent industry, and will help us gain the capacity to grow our work in Brookline and beyond.

Applications accepted until July 25th, 2017.

Anyone with relevant experience in media arts facilitation/ non-profit operations will be interviewed by phone or in person.

What Do You Want to Create at the Public VR Lab?

We need your help in developing the Public VR Lab! Click here to fill out our survey and earn a chance to win an Eco Dot or win a free Public VR Lab membership!

Thanks for your help in developing the Public VR Lab! Become a member and make amazing immersive media!

Tonight: Public VR Lab & Boston VR Joint Meetup @BIG in Brookline

The Public VR Labpublicvrlab

The Public VR Lab is a collaborative effort to facilitate a public dialogue and projects around new VR-related technologies; to support the community creation of 360, virtual and augmented content, provide access to tools and headsets; and to generate socially-relevant and locally-focused public interest VR experiences. Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) and Northampton Community Television (NCTV) launched this VR accessibility and literacy initiative at their community media centers in Northampton and Brookline, MA, beginning in Spring of 2016.

In this short video, BIG’s Executive Director, Kathy Bisbee, who co-founded the Public VR Lab with NCTV’s Executive Director, Al Williams, shares the vision of the Lab’s work to bring the public access to VR/AR, local content creation, expertise and public trainings through several initiatives.

Since then the Lab has offered free weekly public demos of VR experiences via the HTC Vive headset and controllers at both locations, at senior centers, fairs, and at pop-up public events, and created a fall VR Academy to train Brookline High School students. The Lab held its first Meetup in Boston in August 2016 with speakers from the VR content creation team at FRONTLINE on their pioneering immersive journalism films and projects, and has since partnered with VR/AR Hackathons, other mixed reality creators and labs, and in collaboration with Boston VR, the Science & Media Awards Summit, the Pioneer Valley Game Group, and curated the interactive component of the 2016 Northampton Film Festival. The Public VR Lab recently offered a mini-VR Lab talk and demos in Charleston, WV to offer opportunities to residents there.
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FREE & Accessible Virtual Reality Demos  

Since May of 2016, through the Public VR Lab, BIG and NCTV have provided free public demos of over thirty virtual reality experiences to hundreds of local residents. This free public access allows any community member the opportunity to experiment with VR-related technologies and storytelling in VR. In 2017, the Lab will also offer augmented reality (AR) demos as well. List of VR demos and experiences available.

Brookline Interactive Group, 46 Tappan Street, Brookline MA. 3rd Floor of the Unified Arts Building, Directly next door to the Brookline hills green line stop.

Wednesdays: 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Fridays: 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

NCTV, Northampton MA

[NCTV] Northampton MA

VR Academy

The VR Academy is a project of the Public VR Lab that began in Fall 2016 to help facilitate content creation through classes, workshops and hackathons focused on training high school and college students, as well as adults. The VR Academy also will launch regional and nationwide training programs in 2017 to train non-profit organizational staff, small businesses, and education administrators how to use, create, and implement VR-related technologies into their day-to-day services and programs. In 2017, the VR Academy/Public VR Lab will offer classes and workshops in Brookline/Boston and western Massachusetts in Unity, Simmetri, 3-D Modeling for VR, 360 Filmmaking & Cinematography, Digital Storytelling in 360, Storytelling in AR, and larger scale hackathons with a goal of training and content creation generated from the Lab and shared throughout the VR and broader community.
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Special Events

BIG & NCTV has and will continue to set up free community demos at a variety of locations, including senior and youth centers, at housing projects, libraries, conferences, hospitals, community fairs, business events, colleges, and in public places throughout 2016 and 2017. Check here for a link to our events calendar for the Public VR Lab.
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VR Resources

VR & AR Headsets

HTC Vive –

Oculus Rift –

Samsung Gear VR –

Google Daydream –

Microsoft Hololens –

Content Creation Resources (More links coming soon!) 

Email josh at with any suggestions for good resource sites. 

  • 360 Video
    • 360 content from BIG & The Public VR Lab
    • Tutorials
    • Tips & Tricks

360 Cameras

The Future of VR/AR/360