The Master of Science in Fiction and Entertainment is a one-year, three-semester program where students work with world-renowned professionals in the media industry to develop expertise in worldbuilding, storytelling, and production to build new forms of creative practice.
MS Fiction and Entertainment
Given the vast array of media available, it is urgent to widen the breadth of architecture beyond buildings alone. Why shouldn’t architects design the next Hollywood blockbuster, virtual reality environments, viral videos, or political campaigns? SCI-Arc is a school that expands the scope of the discipline itself. It is a context not just for architecture but applied architectural thinking; an environment where students can craft new kinds of practice for the alternative realities of the twenty-first century.
Expanding the Scope of Architecture Through Worldbuilding
Our perception of the world is unquestionably determined by the extraordinary shared languages of fiction and entertainment, through which we exchange ideas and engage with our environments. Given the critical importance of media in the production of culture, there is an urgency to widen the scope of architecture beyond the built environment.
SCI-Arc’s MS program in Fiction and Entertainment provides the opportunity for students to learn the techniques of popular media as well as employ a broad range of digital tools to imagine, visualize, and produce alternative worlds. Deeply embedded in the entertainment industry of Los Angeles, SCI-Arc’s Fiction and Entertainment program challenges students to develop provocative narratives that critically examine emerging conditions of contemporary life.
Project Development as Design Curriculum
The Master of Science program in Fiction and Entertainment is organized as a year-long thesis project completed across three semesters. The core of each semester is the design studio during which students work with program coordinator Liam Young and program faculty Alexey Marfin to develop either individual or group projects.
The three-semester sequence begins with a focus on worldbuilding, transitions into storytelling in the second semester, and ends with an emphasis on production in the final semester. Within this framework, students are encouraged to develop a unique project towards a cohesive body of work that may take the form of a short film, animation, music video, documentary, video game, VR environment, theatre experience, or performance.
Engaging Industries of Media and Film
The design studio curriculum is supported each semester by a Design Lab course which serves as a platform for supplementary workshops, talks, and mentoring sessions led by world-renowned filmmakers, concept artists, screenwriters, and animators from the film and entertainment industry.
The program draws industry partners and intellectual collaborators from companies such as Framestore, Sundance Institute, Disney Imagineering, Vice Media, Netflix, Digital Domain, and Imaginary Forces. Instructors and lecturers in the program include:
- Ben West, Creative Director of Framestore Los Angeles, the Academy Award-winning production company behind the visual effects for films such as Gravity, Blade Runner 2049, and Ghost in the Shell
- Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs, Film Fund Director of the Sundance Institute’s documentary film program
- Christian Lorenz Schurer, concept artist for blockbuster films including Justice League, Suicide Squad, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, and Dark City
- Andrew Thomas Huang, director known for music video collaborations with artists such as Bjork and FKA twigs
- Mike Hill, concept designer for films such as Blade Runner 2049, Love Death and Robots, and the forthcoming Dune
- Ane Crabtree, costume designer for The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld
- Evan Hill, level designer with Naughty Dog
- Alex O’Flinn, editor for The Bad Batch, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and The Rider
- Melissa Smith, Environment Artist at Sony Santa Monica Studios
- Justin Trudeau, set designer at Marvel Entertainment
- Patti Podesta, production designer for Memento, American Gods, and Defending Jacob
- Kenric McDowell, Director of the Artists + Machine Intelligence program at Google Research
- Ruthie Doyle, Program Manager of the Sundance Festival New Frontier Lab
- Matt Warburton, Emmy Award-winning screenwriter for The Simpsons, Community, and The Mindy Project
- Hojo Shin, SAG-AFTRA actress whose work has been shown at Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, Traverse City, and NBC
- Geoff Manaugh, author of BLDGBLOG and the New York Times bestseller, A Burglar's Guide to the City
- Alexandra Holcomb, Vice President at Screen Arcade
- Former and ongoing guests include the following and many more:
- Samantha Gorman, cofounder of Tenderclaws
- Doug Olsen, storyboard artist and director for Rick and Morty
- Mike Tucker, Interactive Director with Magic Leap
- Natalie Sun, director and founder at NextArt
- Sarah Swenson, environment artist at Naughty Dog
- Memo Atken, media artist
- Victor Martinez, concept designer for Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Avatar
- Greg Feingold, LA coordinator of Felix and Paul Studios
Customizing Technical Expertise for Practice
The Fiction and Entertainment program provides individual mentorship to equip students with a wide range of industry-standard production and post-production skills. Depending on the conceptual direction of each student's thesis project, they can learn workflows in visual effects ranging from digital compositing, hard and soft surface 3D modeling, simulation and FX, texturing and rendering, VR and game engines, to traditional techniques in cinematography, editing, direction, and on-set production. Whether entering independent and freelance industries or the commercial world, Fiction and Entertainment empowers students with both the ability to produce their own work and to work within industry-standard pipelines of larger studios.
Building Futures in Fiction and Entertainment
The Fiction and Entertainment curriculum simultaneously creates space for students to develop their own interests, passions, and agendas while directly focusing on preparation for careers that will continue to propel their professional practice after graduation.
Students are exposed to a broad cross-section of professionals in film, game development, commercial production, visual effects, and other design industries, while supported to develop a body of work that will help them to transition into their chosen field.
Recent graduates from the program are developing careers in production design, creative direction, video games, visual effects, commercial and TV production, media art, and design research. Several Fiction and Entertainment alumni have shared their trajectories upon completing the program in the Graduate Experiences section below.
SCI-Arc is grateful for the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Individual Student Projects
EARTH MOTHER SKY FATHER
Kordae Henry (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
Earth Mother Sky Father is a live-action music video that takes place in the year 2030, when the Congo is no longer shipping unrefined rare earth minerals out to sea, but is keeping its wealth onshore and in the ground. The processes and infrastructure of mining have been revalued and ritualized as an important aspect of local culture. This is Afrika’s future through dance—a ceremony for the God of Rare Earth. The ‘music film’ features a performance from acclaimed street dancer Storyboard P playing the part of Woot, an Excavation Programmer and is supported by the sonic sounds and dissonant electro haze of the infamous duo Shabazz Palaces from Sub Pop Records.
Rick Farin (Fiction and Entertainment ‘19)
BREACH follows a radical religious group composed of displaced wildfire victims as they reclaim the blaze through material sacrifice and BREACH is an artwork built within a game engine that speculates on the interdependence between technology, materiality, and wildfire in a climate change transformed future Southern California. “BREACH comes out of my own experience with wildfire,” says Farin, “Growing up in the foothills of Los Angeles—having been evacuated multiple times—and ironically, a few weeks ago, I was forced to grab the hard drives containing this project to escape the flame.” BREACH will see its first iteration as interactive installation in November at MIRA Festival 2019 in Barcelona.
THE PANTHEON OF QUEER MYTHOLOGY
Enrique Agudo (Fiction and Entertainment ‘19)
The Pantheon of Queer Mythology is a fashion editorial produced in virtual reality. The fashion is a collaboration between a diverse ensemble of queer artists under Agudo’s creative direction, captured and showcased through the use of photogrammetry.These scenes are capsules of worship, conflict, love, and despair, and throw light into what it means to be queer today. These stories reference the important heritage of our queer forefathers, foremothers, and foreparents and these deities are the genesis of a new mythological archive of characters inclusive of spectral sexual and gender identities.
Jeremy Kamal Hartley (Fiction and Entertainment ‘19)
MOJO is a computer-generated music video that presents a future in which Afro-American values are "the predominant cultural model.” Vast machines operated by music producers move over a flood plain landscape, using bass notes from amplified music to vibrate bodies of water. These vibrations displace the water so that it irrigates the surrounding soil, watering plants distributed by seed-dropping drones. The music video portrays a world in which automation has removed the need for manual human labor and landscapes has become a platform for self-expression. African-Americans who were historically regarded as property or machines now use machines in the service of leisure and expression.
Lu Te-Hsing (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
Last Choice is a hybrid documentary exploring Hikikomori, a condition of social-withdrawal prevalent among young men in Japan. Set during the deadly earthquake and the tsunami of 2011, the film follows a 'hikikomori' who for three years has locked himself in his room playing video games and now faces the dilemma of whether to leave or stay, which ultimately is also the choice between living or dying.
VALENTINE IN THINGS CITY
Viviane Komati (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
Valentine in Things City is a research and design project that imagines the future of post-human spaces like Google data centers and Amazon warehouses. Using the same artificial intelligence code that organizes logistics infrastructure, a fictional fulfillment center at the scale of a city has been procedurally generated. Things City is designed to accommodate only delivery drones, logistics bots, and packages as its citizens. Through the eyes of the city’s machines, we watch as a girl enters Things City on Valentine’s day searching for a lost package.
Mohammad Soleimani (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
In a near-future Los Angeles, everyone sees the city through their own set of augmented reality contact lenses. Through this digital overlay, it is possible for everyone to curate their own experience of the world. Here a young Persian refugee arrives at the border to the city and is given a mandatory set of government-issued cultural adjustment AR lenses. Shut out of other people’s realities she slowly descends into a new form of digital alienation.
Shuruq Tramontini (Fiction and Entertainment ‘19)
Current Affairs is an interactive VR experience that takes audiences on a journey into the depths of a plastic polluted ocean, where an octopus leads us to the unknown Pacific garbage island. Working with real time datasets that come live and direct from the deep sea, this immersive environment changes and responds to reveal the current geomythology of the plastic island and makes tangible the strength and pollution of deep sea currents. With the octopus we drift beneath the waves and confront the hidden consequence of our daily routines. But what is the plastic island, and does it really exist? Or is it just an anecdote to confirm our worst fears about overconsumption? A cloud drifting and floating through media spaces and digital forums? A society of objects created on a planetary scale, an accumulation of our cultural traces and artifacts.
TO BE GREAT
Allen Zihan Zhang (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
As Elon Musk launches his mission to Mars, Trump announces the formation of Space Force, and China broadcasts new narratives of industrial dominance, technology, politics, and fiction are merging together. In this context VFX, concept art and worldbuilding have become critical acts of propaganda. To Be Great is a new propaganda film from the United Republic. The government is presenting the design and animation of a speculative nation building mission to send astronauts to Saturn and Titan.
Lu Te-Hsing (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
"Fiction and Entertainment is an ambitious program that focuses on the future of media and storytelling, unlike any other academic approach I’ve seen before. With the resources and support the program provides, each of us established individual workflows that correspond specifically to our projects. The numerous guests from different disciplines come in weekly, exposing us constantly to the latest trends and technologies. To seek the balance between ideology and practice, we learn different tools as languages to communicate with mentors and use in the industry. It’s a program worth investing in for those who are fluent in techniques yet not satisfied with traditional forms of practice, and those who have strong visions and a passion for developing their own personal projects.
During my time in the program, I developed the short film Last Choice. The project explores “Hikikomori,” the phenomenon of social withdrawal prevalent in Japan, through the lens of fiction and documentary. Last Choice won Best Direction and Best North American Short Film in the Asia South-East Film Festival, and it was nominated for the LA Independent Showcase, New Filmmaker NY Film Festival, Docs Without Borders Film Festival, Asian Film Festival Of Dallas, and the Houston Asian American & Pacific Islander Film Festival.
After graduation, I started working for UNIT9 as a junior creative director. UNIT9 is an international production company that produces interactive experiences, including AR, VR, gaming, film, installations, and immersive theater. We work closely with teams from Nike, Vice, Tinder, Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, Starz, Gucci, Chanel, Pandora, Netflix, Snapchat, Oculus, and many other companies that are interested in unexpected and unique productions."
Eva Huang (Fiction and Entertainment ‘17)
"My time with the Fiction and Entertainment program provided a technical and professional breakthrough that still deeply impacts my practice. They are incisive educators that guided my work from speculative architecture to real-world filmmaking. I cannot thank them enough for sharing their community and guidance.
Right after graduating, I interned at the Sundance Documentary Fund before becoming a screener for Sundance Film Festival's VR submissions. I now freelance as a production designer and producer. This year, I started my own production company with a client list that includes Google, Netflix, Interscope, Dead Oceans, Capcom, Adobe, and Sony. In addition to the commercial clients, I have a narrative feature film in late development with Andrew Thomas Huang.
The full production pipeline from concept through post that I learned in the Fiction and Entertainment program absolutely enabled me to tackle fantastic projects early in my career. The program taught me invaluable skills that I use on a daily basis; I build digital concepts for VFX, design physical sets, storyboard narrative scripts, and pitch to industry professionals."
Rohini Jadhav (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
"The Fiction and Entertainment program at SCI-Arc is one of a kind program that merges architecture with entertainment. While I had a passion for films and a highly specialized skillset from architecture, I had no prior understanding of filmmaking or knowledge of how to apply my skills into this field. During my year at SCI-Arc, I mastered additional new skillsets and under the guidance of diverse experts from different states of filmmaking, I developed my own short film that highlighted the long-lasting repercussions of the Fukushima disaster.
The exposure to different styles of filmmaking, interactions with industry experts, and practical applications in my own project honed me for the next step post-graduation—getting my foot in the door of a highly competitive film industry in LA. Since my graduation, I have worked in art departments on a Netflix animated film, an HBO pilot generation, and even a feature currently being optioned to studios. I have had the privilege of working closely with renowned production designers like Oscar-nominated Guy Hendrix Dyas, Inbal Weinberg, and Lauren Fitzsimmons. I am also a participant in the highly selective Art Directors Guild’s Production Design Initiative and have designed and art directed multiple short films since.
The program is a great way to explore the multiple facets of designing for films, video games, AR/VR, and finding your niche before you seek out jobs in the extremely competitive entertainment industry."
Paul Krist (Fiction and Entertainment ‘16)
"Every short film that I made at SCI-Arc pushed me to learn new tools to better tell a story. We traveled through India with the studio and I worked with local actors and producers to develop a speculative fiction set in a hybrid Los Angeles and Mumbai cityscape. We developed skills in both traditional in-camera cinematography and digital visual effects. Ultimately, through the studio, I developed the knowledge and professional connections that helped me to get a position as a compositor at Framestore in Los Angeles. I had the opportunity to work on AAA games titles, Hollywood blockbusters, and various commercials like the cinematic trailer for Destiny 2. I have now transitioned to Framestore’s HQ in London to work on concept designs and environment art for National Geographic TV series Mars 2."
Fariba Shafiee (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
"Throughout my time in the Fiction and Entertainment program, I developed an episodic film titled House of Eyes, a series of three stories on the city of Tehran and its invisible infrastructures of surveillance. With this project I built up my VFX skillset from digital concept art to pre-visualization animation techniques and final cinematography and post production. These techniques built on my architecture background and came together as a body of work that provided me the opportunity to work in Pixomondo Studio—an international VFX company. As a digital artist in Pixomondo, I have been working on blockbuster projects in a range of roles such as a designer on Star Trek, a 3D modeler on Westworld, and as a concept artist on other short animations and music videos.
For me the most compelling aspect of the Fiction and Entertainment program was the interdisciplinary discourse that helped establish a comprehensive knowledge across a range of storytelling mediums such as animation, game design, VR, and short films. This knowledge is developed in weekly discussion between high profile instructors, guests, and students along with technical skills workshops. I believe if someone, regardless of their background, wants to explore cutting-edge forms of entertainment through new technologies of storytelling, speculation, and world-building then Fiction and Entertainment is the best program to put that desire into practice."
Sarah Villareal (Fiction and Entertainment ‘17)
"The studio helped me to cultivate the skills I learned in architecture as a vehicle to explore my interests as a designer and filmmaker. The guidance, dedication, and tireless tutelage I received from Liam Young and Alexey Marfin instilled a determined work ethic and sense of wonder in me; giving me the tools to visualize and realize my short film Neville—a story that follows an autonomous lawn mower doing its daily rounds in a post-human, special economic zone of downtown Los Angeles. The curriculum’s rich exercise in world building, development of speculative narrative through research and story boarding, and intimate workshops with leading film professionals were an invaluable opportunity to learn and gain access to one on one feedback from the best. I submitted my film to the Sundance Film Festival and through the professional network I met in the program’s design lab I am working as a researcher on an upcoming documentary series for a major network. This program is truly inspiring and a mind-blowing experience. It opened up real opportunities to pursue a future as a filmmaker."
Michel Erler (Fiction and Entertainment ‘18)
"Over the course of my Master of Science in Fiction and Entertainment at SCI-Arc, I did not only deepen my conceptual skillset through worldbuilding and design research, but also gained a thorough understanding of game engines and the overall professional workflow for game development and immersive experiences. My project Ways of Seeing, which explores the world seen through the eyes of machines, has been exhibited at State Studio Berlin, shortlisted for several competitions—among them Sundance New Frontier—and will be exhibited at media art festivals in Europe, Asia, and North America this year. Through connections made in the program I am currently working at Framestore’s Immersive Entertainment department in Los Angeles. At Framestore I have been both involved in early, internal pitching phases for AR games, as well as in the development of a state-of-the-art VR experience for Intel. The program equipped me with strong conceptual, artistic, and technical skills, exposed me to a range of highly contemporary developments and concepts, and introduced me to numerous creative leaders in their field, making me eager to push the forefront of interactive, immersive, and emerging forms of entertainment."
Pierce Myers (Fiction and Entertainment ‘17)
"The Fiction and Entertainment program is an invitation to the forefront of storytelling. Students of the program gain an intimate understanding of emerging workflows while also learning how to tell compelling stories, a combination of skills that other programs can’t offer. Fiction and Entertainment’s broad focus on worldbuilding allows students the opportunity to focus on any point of the process that they choose including modeling, animation, game design, writing, and concept development. The course has positioned me perfectly for work in the field of creative direction. I now have a comprehensive knowledge of emerging narrative mediums at a technical level and understand the ethical urgency associated with mediating the future. Working in futurist writing and narrative development I feel confident in my ability to steer projects and move culture in a desirable direction. Through connections established in the program, I am now currently working with worldbuilder and award-winning production designer Alex McDowell on a new project that involves embedding narratives in a near-future context for an immersive installation, and I have begun preliminary work with Netflix and the New York Times on a documentary project."
Khevna Shah (Fiction and Entertainment ‘17)
"As part of the Fiction and Entertainment program, I made the short hybrid documentary The Endless Market. The film is based around the design of a fictional tower that forms an archive of stories from an important market in Mumbai that is now threatened by gentrification. My architectural approach to the project gave me a different perspective towards a particular place, its people, and its culture, but it was with the guidance of Liam Young and Alexey Marfin that I learnt how to speculate and visualize an alternate world within this existing context. In the year-long course, I have learned and developed a completely new pallet of skills. The curriculum gave us the opportunity to learn from and receive feedback at every stage of the process from some of the great professionals in the industry. Furthermore, it enabled us to make connections and work with them in the future. Currently, I am working with production designer Alex McDowell on a worldbuilding project imagining the city of tomorrow and the urban possibilities of driverless cars. This program opened up innumerable possibilities for me and definitely added a great deal to my skillset."