MaryAnn Talavera is a creative technologist, filmmaker, and polyglot with a love for storytelling. She studies immersive media, XR, and virtual production at ITP and completed the Volumetric Performance Toolkit Residency. She also works in Tisch Special Programs and is part of Octavia Immersive.
Built in the Unreal Game Engine and based on research on how Black characters and their hair are represented within the 3D space, Root is an immersive film and VR experience that explores themes of race, beauty, and representation. The audience follows the main character, Yara, as she embarks on a magical journey through different hair worlds resulting in her personal and physical transformation. This project incorporates elements of filmmaking and XR storytelling: cinematography, spatialized audio, 3D asset creation, animation, and compositing. It also leverages performance capture technology. Through the short film, VR experience, and its accompanying research, Root will demonstrate how racial biases have been replicated within 3D asset marketplaces, software, hardware, and workflows.
Root challenges the implicit bias embedded in digital media that results in the lack of 3D assets for Black and Brown characters. Additionally, character creation software solutions often use base characters with eurocentric features which not only sets whiteness as the norm, it also makes it difficult to create naturalistic Black models. The lack of options for Black characters as well as the difficulty in finding resources to create afro-textured hair assets reinforce some of the negative messaging about Blackness. For this reason, hair and aesthetics play vital roles in Root. Yara’s magical journey highlights the external and internalized pressures Black women face to straighten their hair. Intended as an educational tool and immersive narrative, Root seeks to inspire a new generation of BIPOC digital creatives through storytelling.