A Mind at Peace: ShamanIQ

A lovely view of a Vermont forest scene used as inspiration for the VR experience.

Written by: Reagan Lee, ’22

Edited by: Gillianne Ross, ’22

Shamanism is an ancient practice, meant to take the practitioner out of a stressful mindset by introducing them to a meditative state of consciousness. Traditional Shamanism practiced by indigenous people for thousands of years, is a form of meditation used to alter one’s consciousness to commune with a symbolic realm by entering a trance-like state. Using the Shamanistic technique, the hope is for the subject to experience emotional/psychological healing, and gain an ability to understand new insights about their own life today.

In the Fall of 2019, the Emergent Media Center (EMC) finished a project known as ShamanIQ, a 360° Virtual Reality experience with visual effects (VFX) for wellness therapy. The goal of the project was to help individuals enter a meditative state quicker than if not using virtual reality (VR). Our client, Wendy Halley from Lucid Path Wellness, travels to workplaces to offer this therapy. Having a program would help Wendy streamline her work process. 

“Workplace wellness has been a long time area of focus in my work. I love the idea of having a portable VR wellness experience,” states Wendy.

William “Billy” Wilms setting up a camera in a field.

In order to fully capture the scope of the project, we interviewed JJ Robertson, a Senior Game Artist and the artist on the Shaman project. JJ was recently featured in an EMC video profile video, alongside William “Billy” Wilms, a member of the Video Team—and client, Wendy Halley.

“Shaman IQ is a VR [Virtual Reality] experience intended to ease the user into a relaxed state and aid in shamanistic visioning. By revealing a tranquil forest environment, with fantastical VFX and binaural-beat music, players reported feeling much more relaxed post-experience,” says JJ Robertson.

Although the final product from the Shaman IQ team was a VR experience, the team did not set out with that idea in mind. The group originally planned to use a 360° video of Vermont’s landscape. Billy Wilms says he was “brought on the team as a video producer to film 360° videos and stitch them together. However after we realized our recording gear did not provide the quality we wanted, the project moved into being fully built in the Unreal engine.”

The team had to adapt on the fly, and it fell to JJ to learn many new skills in order to create a project to fit the client’s—and the team’s—expectations. JJ says that the experience not only taught them a lot personally but aided in their college coursework as well. “I became a lot more comfortable being able to delve deep into the engine,” says JJ, “and even was able to help others with the exact same issues as I had.”

Wendy Halley testing out the VR experience while JJ Robertson looks on.

Billy also acquired valuable skills while working on the team. “I learned how to create 360/VR videos because of this project, and it definitely is something that I value as a film major. Not having too much experience prior to the project and getting the opportunity to basically jump into a crash course was a great challenge for me.”

“My hope was to have a taste of an immersive VR experience to share with potential customers and investors,” says the client, Wendy Halley, “the EMC exceeded my hopes.”

From left to right: Billy, Wendy, and JJ.

Both JJ and Billy have words of advice for anyone facing a challenge, or anyone nervous about trying something new. “Try not to be in your own head too much. There are a lot of people here who are willing to help you and getting stuck on something isn’t the end of the world,” says Billy.

JJ says to “fail faster. Make mistakes and keep iterating until you understand what works.”

Wendy had a positive experience with the EMC, stating that “I felt my overall vision was not compromised and that the team was bending over backward to try and deliver what I was hoping for within the scope of a very limited budget. Working with the EMC was a great experience!”