August 17, 2022

The Ganek Family Foundation Gifts SCA An Immersive Storytelling Studio

By Benjamin Pola

The USC School of Cinematic Arts is launching the Ganek Immersive Studio, an interdisciplinary center for developing and producing a wide range of immersive media content, made possible by the generous gift from David and Danielle Ganek and the Ganek Family Foundation. David Ganek is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of CityLights, a VR and AR financing and distribution studio.

SCA Dean Elizabeth Daley says the Ganek Immersive Studio will serve as a creative hub dedicated to expanding the current boundaries of immersive storytelling and world-building. It is part of the School’s continuing efforts to be at the forefront of emerging cinematic technologies. “Whenever we are thinking about opportunities for students to innovate and expand their creative abilities, it is imperative that we look to the future,” says Dean Daley. “There is nothing more exciting and relevant to the future of our industry than the creation of entertaining immersive experiences. David Ganek is a leader in this realm and we are thrilled to have his support in providing the resources our students need to take content creation to the next level.”

Both Ganeks are storytellers; Danielle Ganek is a novelist. “We’ve grown very fond of the school, and we see that this space is going to expand into many different things, including fictional storytelling,” David Ganek said in an interview with GamesBeat. “The idea of being at the forefront of that, with a great institution like USC, was an exciting idea. As a founding partner of CityLights, that brought me into the immersive space. I was always intrigued by virtual reality.” 

The first-of-its-kind immersive studio will be led by USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Candace Reckinger, an award-winning animator and digital artist who led the development of the School’s labs in virtual and augmented reality. “Candace Reckinger’s body of work speaks for itself and our students are in the best of hands as she guides them in what promises to be a groundbreaking journey,” says Dean Daley.

The Ganek Immersive Studio will function as a creative design studio with a modern, real-time production and visualization pipeline. As a bonus, it will also feature a theater space in SCA's Interactive Media Building, equipped with haptic chairs for exhibiting projects. With Reckinger's guidance, the studio will operate with an eye toward the future, focusing on current and emergent technologies, allowing students to immerse themselves in innovative, creative, educational experiences. 

The goal of the studio is to develop and produce several projects simultaneously, with varying budgets and creative goals. The studio will establish a protocol for students from any USC school or program to pitch project ideas to a “greenlight committee” consisting of SCA faculty members and representatives from CityLights. 

The committee will then recommend proposals that will move forward to the “greenlight” phase and from there, a final selection process that will include interviews with student creators and a process for revising proposals. All projects selected will be supervised and supported by USC faculty and CityLights creators throughout all stages of the production. 

To showcase the innovative work produced by students and faculty, the Ganek Immersive Studio will coordinate with media festivals, competitions, and symposiums, as well as hold annual shows and exhibits at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. 

This is a collaboration squarely aimed at fostering a generation of storytellers known for superb VR and AR work.