Hannah Gillis is an entertainment producer with strengths in managing artistic and technical multi-disciplinary teams and integrating complex tasks, demonstrated in Industrial Light and Magic’s Experience Lab and Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group. Highlights include producing video teaser for ILMxLAB’s international launch and managing virtual reality and real-time cinema entertainment experiences. She has a passion for navigating uncertainty and empowering team members through iterative processes, especially in the emergent virtual reality industry.
You are an entertainment producer who has worked on various projects in the virtual reality industry. What motivated you to go into VR?
Hannah Gillis: My involvement with VR originated out of a passion for storytelling and Star Wars. At LucasFilm, there are Star Wars stories that involve problem solving, saving the universe for example and using human guts, courage and technical ability to respond to a call for adventure. When I had the opportunity to go into the VR industry, it was my own response to that call for adventure. I was working in New Mexico and took a leap moving out to San Francisco. As an R&D Project Manager specifically, my background is a little bit different. It focuses on multidisciplinary education. I have my Bachelors in Fine Arts — focusing on digital media, computer science, and production — as well as my MBA in emerging technology. So, having that type of value in art and tech has really helped me contribute to “making magic” as I like to call it.
What projects have you worked on so far?
Gillis: The projects I have worked on so far are centered around simulated environments where you can be completely immersed, you can interact, and you can appeal to the senses of a user via visual, audio and haptics and more.
With this in mind, I most recently produced Star Wars Trials on Tatooine, ILMxLAB’s first real-time rendered virtual reality experience. It’s a first-person interactive cinema piece that places the audience directly onto the planet of Tatooine where he or she can repair the Millennium Falcon and wield a lightsaber! The entire project is a real glimpse into the future of engine-driven storytelling.
This innovative work reminds me of the challenges that Lucas faced many years ago; just like the first years of making special effects and learning how to tell great stories, virtual reality is also starting out with a very small community; Lucas had a drive to create very technical and artistic relevant stories, diverse characters and beautiful universes and that really fueled the type of organization that he created and the type of diversified workforce that we have.
What\’s your wish list of what you would like to see happen in the VR industry?
Gillis: I personally am very interested in multiple industries that are exploring virtual reality. For example, I am starting to research accessibility design in virtual reality for people with different medical conditions and how we can make our stories enjoyable for a wide array of audiences. With this discussion, my colleagues and I have been able to connect to audiences in the medical arena, people who are working with nursing home patients with early to advanced stages of dementia, as well as children with limited mobility.
There are so many exciting ways virtual reality is going to affect and touch people’s lives for the better. I am so excited about the open communication and collaboration that is going on in the field right now and I think one of the things on my wish list is to continue that great connectivity that we are creating. It is through organizations like WiVR that we keep the dialogue going and open and fruitful.
What are you working on now?
Gillis: Our work has really expanded with Disney. Disney approached Lucasfilm a few years ago to grow Star Wars and brought with it diversity in audience and output, whether it’s the movies, TV shows, or theme parks. My current work is benefiting from the Disney integration. We have more access to an array of brilliant engineers and creative minds throughout our company and sister companies like Pixar, Imagineering, and Disney Research etc. All of these groups are constantly collaborating and fueling the discussion around next generation storytelling in AR, VR, Theme Parks, and more. ILMxLAB is playing a large role in that collaboration.
One of the newest ILMxLAB projects is a “Rogue One Recon” virtual reality experience. It’s available in a couple of formats including Facebook 360 and YouTube 360. It’s a short immersive 360 experience, giving you the perspective of an everyday x-wing pilot in space – directed by our own John Knoll and created in ILMxLAB. It originated at Lucas and is completely free. We are so excited to share it with Star Wars fans.
What advice do you offer women entering this field?
Gillis: I want to start with shouting out the Women in Virtual Reality organization. In this group, there is so much expertise in virtual reality, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
My advice to women and — men — entering this field is to try things. I encourage people to try things. One of my biggest recommendations to students is to participate in virtual reality games, festivals etc; there are great opportunities for networking and learning without too much. Making experiences, I think, is the most motivating way to get involved with this field.