Saudi Arabia Masterclass: An experience in creativity, loss, culture, and coming home a year later!
In July 2022, AVimmerse's creative Director Keith Myers was invited to deliver a masterclass for Ithra’s creative solutions programme, which is ‘a yearly thematic innovation program that invites professionals in art, science, and technology in an open call to develop viable solutions using XR technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), immersive audio and haptics.’
See details here.
This came about due to our practice in immersive tech, Keith Myers' background in delivering to bootcamps, guest lecturing at leading Universities, and the products and services AVimmerse offers in immersive technologies.
Getting There - from Keith Myers
I woke up at a hair-raising 1:45am, into a world of darkness and confusion, whilst waiting for a taxi in deepest Salford.
When I arrived and met my companion, we had endless fun weaving in and out of security, removing belts, laptops, headsets, chargers, being shouted at to remove trays ‘I’ve only two hands mate!’ Oh, the joys of Manchester airport, what have you become! Well actually, you’ve kind of become the shed that is Heathrow.
When our Lufthansa jet eventually let us on board, mask, and all, we settled into a joyous ride to Frankfurt, where we spent the next 3 or so hours waiting for our transit plane. All aboard for the 9am express to Saudi, via Kuwait of course. For some reason the plane decides to refuel there, so that was another 2 hours on the journey. When we were coming into the final leg of the journey Lufthansa fed us some sort of rye bread sandwich, which felt heavier than me and tasted like an abomination from hell… what happened to the cute pasta we received a few hours earlier?!
Eventually we landed at about midnight local time, the first thing you notice when you step out of the airport is the heat. There are no words that can describe that intensity. It’s probably like having a dozen hairdryers on full heat, put into your face at once. Mental.
Our driver took us to the hotel about 45 minutes away and by this point I was exhausted, time had bended somehow, and we were in the future, or was it the past?? It’s safe to say I probably caught about 4 hours sleep that night.
The next morning, we had breakfast and talked about the masterclass. The food helped, a la carte hotel buffet.
Before the masterclass at 4:30pm I got to have a tour around the Ithra building, which is an amazing piece of architecture. It has multiple floors, a library, museum, art gallery, film and video studio, theatre, kids play area, café, plus much more.
The style and architecture are intriguing, and the combination of stone, wood and glass make for a compelling narrative on the choices to make the building with a connection to knowledge, wisdom, learning and culture.
A magnificent building and one worthy of visiting if you ever get the chance.
Day 1 Masterclass
The structure I had designed for the masterclass was the following:
An Introduction to Game Engines
Cutscenes in Unity
Practical Session: Blender Introduction & How to Integrate with Unity.
Roles, Rates, and Commercial Application
I had prepared a number of teaching materials that the students were able to download and use to continue their learning journey. This proved to be very useful to them as a lot of them thanked me for this and for the opportunity to continue learning in the future.
The kind people at Ithra and the students had a really nice surprise for me: they brought me a special cake with a label for me - they sang me happy birthday in Arabic and English. Although the words are different, the beat is exactly the same, so clearly this is a reinterpretation of the version we’ve all come to know. But it was great, and I really appreciated it. It’s not every day you get to fly to Saudi, deliver a masterclass on Immersive Technology, whilst turning 40 years young!
Day 2 Immersive Tech and Advanced Learning Surgery
On the second day I focused on providing the students with critical feedback on their projects and gave them the benefit of my skills and experience in the immersive tech sector. Some of the students changed their ideas as a result of this feedback, whilst most of them either modified their idea or added to it.
The students were quite expressive in their ideas about the projects they had been working on and they really impressed me with their level of sophistication when it came to ideas and implementation of their own projects.
The plan is to continue supporting students on their project goals by giving them advice and mentoring in the future.
After our teaching, we got a little bit of downtime and decided to visit the local heritage centre. This was a welcome break from the fast pace we had experienced, especially for myself after giving the masterclass I found it hard to sleep and probably had 3 hours shuteye after day 1!
The museum is an interesting place, and you can see where the Saudi Arabian culture struck gold with oil, it’s relationship with the west and its transformation with technology. This to me felt like a representation of the King’s personality and what held dear, and when you entered the museum, you are told that the downstairs room is a replica of the kings.
Losing My Luggage - The Good Souls of Manchester
When I was eventually dropped off in a taxi, I let out a big sigh of relief as I was very tired. However, when I opened my suitcase, I was in for a bit of a shocker! I had been thinking about how light my suitcase felt since Frankfurt, or rather that thought was at the back of my mind. I put it down to tiredness… why wouldn’t you?
So inside my suitcase were seemingly the contents of a young child’s clothes, complete with wee toothbrush. Where was my MacBook Pro, where was my VR headset, teaching materials? … oh boy!
I kept my cool, made those comms to the airport, flight company - then I began to message the company from the receipts in the bag and to try and track down some child called Rhys… it felt a bit weird to be honest.
Then I got a message on social media and actually the other person found and messaged me on LinkedIn. It turned out that I had probably picked up their luggage in error. Thankfully they lived not far away, and I went and picked up my luggage and exchanged it for their luggage. Needless to say, I was thrilled!
The moral of the luggage story is ‘keep calm, work on solutions, and even label hand luggage!’ There are still some great people in this world.
Saudi Arabia and Ithra are forward thinking, and they have clear goals for 2030.
It feels very much like this is a new frontier of creativity and innovation. One where the world must change to deal with the climate change crisis - I guess this is the sharp end of that, to survive using other industries, adapt, and become more inclusive.
The people I spoke with were all very positive, welcoming, and had a mindset for change. There is a lot of creativity and mountains of enthusiasm, an abundance of kindness and to be frank not the picture sometimes painted in the press. One thing life has taught me over the years is: you have to go to a place to experience the people.
I certainly want to continue my relationship with Ithra in the future and help the students develop their network and skills in immersive technology. This is something that I feel passionate about: about giving to the next generation of creatives and having the opportunity to connect with people in different countries to learn now way of looking at the world we live in.