Open Metaverse Intensive

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Open Metaverse Intensive

10-week Online Course in Decentralized Worldbuilding

As we live more of our lives in an increasingly virtual world, how can we develop creative agency as citizens in these new digital spaces?

The Open Metaverse Intensive is a new 10-week online course designed to empower and transform participants and players into citizens and developers of the interconnected virtual spaces where we work, play, and live.  Led by technologist and educator Mark Hellar, with advisement from Amelia Winger-Bearskin from the Digital Worlds Institute at the University of Florida, the Open Metaverse Intensive is a deep dive of the wide spectrum of extended reality (XR) technologies that students can use to synthesize virtual worlds and merge them with the physical.

In a hands-on interactive learning environment, students will gain proficiency in various digital creator tools and code frameworks, from blockchains to Blender. Upon completion of the program, you’ll be able to design and exhibit original 3D content, create participatory events in virtual reality (VR), and craft immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences from scratch. 

Apply by May 23 for the 2023 Spring Session starting May 30, 2023!

Program Features
  • Learn about the Metaverse’s history, ethical challenges, real-life applications, and growth opportunities
  • Explore new methods for creation using accessible low-code tools like Blender and A-Frame to create 3D models, procedural worlds, virtual and augmented experiences, and live performances
  • Gain experience publishing and selling original content, staging participatory events in the metaverse, and explore the many possibilities of this rapidly developing social and digital economy
  • Learn how to use XR creative tools and applications including Blender, A-Frame, 8thWall, Zappar, Modelviewer, MindAR, and more
  • Experience over 60 hours of online classroom instruction
  • Join the Gray Area alumni network of over 300 peers and professionals
  • Creative and professional development

Outputs from this course might include:

  • A high quality portfolio of VR and AR artwork that is sharable on the web.
  • A 3D multiuser interactive environment 
  • 3D artwork that can be minted as an NFT
  • A VR or AR game or interactive experience
Course Logistics

2023 Spring Session

Dates: Tuesdays and Thursdays, May 30th, 2023 – August 10th, 2023

Times: 6pm – 9pm PT

Cost: $2400 for a 10 week course – We also offer Diversity Scholarships, find out more here.

Course Access

All sessions are held online via Zoom. Unlimited access to the full class recording is available to all enrolled students. Whether you couldn’t make it to class or want to refresh on some of the concepts, Gray Area will provide all enrolled students with a direct link.


Basic Familiarity with HTML and CSS, basic understanding of Javascript is helpful but not required.

Students are encouraged to purchase a VR Headset for the course, such as the Meta Quest 2

Please email [email protected] with any questions.


Week 1 – May 30 + June 2, 6pm PT

Introduction to XR

XR or Extended Reality embraces a spectrum of immersive technologies that synthesize virtual worlds and merge them with real ones, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. In this class, we will explore this spectrum and develop techniques to craft immersive realities from scratch using VR, AR, XR. We will also dive into the history of the technology, Spatial.io room creation and view some artist examples (including works by Gray Area artists e.g.: Michael Epstein, Kevin Suki, Ray McCLure).

Week 2 – June 6 + June 8, 6pm PT

NFTs with Niki Selken

This week will focus on the basics of blockchain technology and how to select artwork and mint an NFT. We will review some of the social and economic conversation surrounding crypto-based NFTs and then dive into the process of minting on the TEIA platform.

Week 3 – June 13 + June 15, 6pm PT

Blender: 3D objects and environments with Victoire Poumadere

Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation. This week we will begin to understand 3D file formats for the web (e.g., GLTF), as well as how to optimize assets for WebXR using techniques like 3D scanning with Polycam, importing and decimating models, using pre-made assets (finding third party assets from Sketchfab, Turbosquid, etc.), and more.

Week 4 – June 20 + June 22, 6pm PT

A-Frame: Introduction to Asset Creation with Coley Mixan

This week you will be introduced to A-Frame by exploring A-Frame models and by setting up a scene in A-Frame, incorporating created assets such as spatial audio while worldbuilding in spaces like New Art City. This week will also include an introduction to, setting up a scene in, and modeling in A-Frame.

Week 5 – June 27 + June 29, 6pm PT

A-Frame Part 1: Digital Worldbuilding in WebXR

In this section we will look at Networked A-frame, a web framework for building virtual reality (VR) experiences by looking at the use of modifiers, geometry, physics, and geometry nodes in A-Frame. We will also connect class XR projects together to build a comprehensive world.

Week 6 – July 11 + July 13, 6pm PT

A-Frame Part 2: Developing VR Experiences

In this section we will look at Devices like the Oculus Quest 2, using controllers and prototyping interactions including Web AR tools such as 8th wall, Zapworks, Modelviewer.

Week 7 – July 18 + July 20, 6pm PT

Developing AR Experiences in WebXR

TThis week we will look at building Augmented reality experiences using the skills we’ve learned so far and have a deep look at the WebAR landscape including the platforms 8thWall, Zappar, Modelviewer and MindAR for multiuser exhibition and gallery development, as well as take a look at the history and theory of digital curation, and deploy a small project online and/or to a VR headset.

Week 8 – July 26 + July 27, 6pm PT

Curation in the Metaverse

What are the curatorial considerations for artwork in the metaverse? How do we explore topical themes, create dialog, encourage critical thought and surface thought-provoking experiences in this new landscape. This week we will take a deep dive with curators who will encourage you to envision your own programming, VR preparation for exhibition, as well as multiuser exhibition development and gallery development in History and theory of digital curation.

Week 9 – August 1 + August 3, 6pm PT

Development Week

Start building! Plus scheduled 1:1 sessions with instructor(s).

Week 10 – August 8 + August 10, 6pm PT

Development Week

This week will allow you to bring your work and ideas to fruition and develop work in preparation for the big show. Open office hours. Instructors and mentors will be on hand to guide you and answer questions. This week will include group critique.

Final Showcase – Friday, August 11th, 6pm PT

The final show and discussion panel!

The final show and discussion panel! Public facing Panel and Exhibition opening with Niki, Victoire, Coley, and Mark.

About Technologies

A-Frame is a web framework for building virtual reality (VR) experiences. A-Frame is based on top of HTML, making it simple to get started. But A-Frame is not just a 3D scene graph or a markup language; the core is a powerful entity-component framework that provides a declarative, extensible, and composable structure to three.js.

Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.

8th Wall is the leading development platform for web-based reality content (WebAR & WebVR). 8th Wall offers a complete solution to create, publish and distribute WebAR and WebVR content including our Cloud Editor, AR Engine, and Built-in Hosting.

Zappar is a WebAR (augmented reality) platform and creative studio.

Modelviewer is an open source web component developed by Google and maintained through GitHub. Model Viewer aims at putting 3D content on the web easily with a few lines of HTML code. 

MindAR is an open source web augmented reality library that allows you to build Face Tracking AR without coding.

Diversity Scholarship

To help creators of all backgrounds reach their goals, we are proud to offer a diversity scholarship to sustain and advance an inclusive community at Gray Area and beyond. This scholarship is for outstanding students from diverse backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education and the fields of art, design, and technology. Recipients will receive 50% – 100% discount towards our Intensive Programs.

The Diversity Scholarship gives preferences to artists who identify as women, queer, gender nonconforming folks, and people of color. We highly encourage students to apply for this scholarship.

Scholarship Application Deadline: May 16, 2023.

The Open Metaverse Intensive was developed with the generous support of the Artist Discovery Grant from the Hewlett Foundation.


Mark is a creative technology consultant for cultural institutions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond and the owner of Hellar Studios LLC. He specializes in innovative yet practical digital media and software-based solutions for multimedia artists and the institutions that support their work, emphasizing developing systems and best practices for exhibition, documentation, and long-term preservation. Mark is a consultant on new media conservation initiatives at SFMOMA, including the conservation and care of their software-based artworks. In addition, Mark has presented on the preservation and exhibition of computer-based artworks at Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institute, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the DOCAM research alliance, and the American Institute of Conservation. He is also faculty at the Gray Area, Academy of Art University, and San Francisco Art Institute(formerly), where he teaches on the topics of virtual reality, augmented reality, and physical computing. Currently, he is leading the Open Metaverse Intensive, a 10-week Online Course in Decentralized Worldbuilding.

Niki Selken 👩🏻‍💻 (she/her) is an artist, technologist and educator. Niki spent over a decade working across game design, physical computing, experimental theatre, interaction design and education. As a designer and technologist, Niki focused on working with nonprofits and small businesses in the inclusion and social impact space (Ms. Foundation, Girls Write Now, LYRIC, Hesperian Health Guides) and as an educator, she taught a range of creative coding courses in both New York and San Francisco. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Niki has taught at her alma mater, at St. Joseph's College in Brooklyn, at the University of San Francisco, at the Bay Area Video Collective and at Gray Area—where she is the Creative Development Director and manages the artist incubator and creative code education programs. Niki's work has been featured by Yahoo Tech, Buzzfeed, Make Magazine and Adafruit, among others. Niki identifies as Latina and hails from a long line of Mexican artists and craftsmen.

Victoire Poumadere brings her experience as a Spatial Designer to build Gray Area's virtual immersive exhibitions and showcases. Drawing from psychology, film, and new media, her multidisciplinary work explores & exposes time and place perception through narrative sets, virtual worlds, architecture, and design. She is one class away from completing her master’s degree in Architecture, with a never ending thesis on shaping serendipity in the built environment.

coley mixan is a musician, public library educator, performance artist, radio DJ, and pastry/prairie enthusiast. They currently create work in Phoenix, AZ, thrusting through a multiverse of clues, hunches, and downright queer shenanigans.