IM4 Lab is opening doors in virtual production for the Indigenous filmmaking community


“You can go anywhere with your imagination when you’re working in motion capture, working with Vicon, working with LED screens. That’s what’s really exciting,” says Loretta Sarah Todd, Creative Director at IM4 Lab.

Indigenous Matriarchs 4 (IM4) Lab is dedicated to helping Canada’s Indigenous community tell stories using leading-edge tools and techniques. The organization offers training in immersive media production, offering Native artists the tools they need to deliver innovative storytelling through an Indigenous lens.

“We’ve been having these discussions about indigenizing technology for a long time. It goes way back to when I started making films,” says Todd. “There was always this sense that storytelling is really important and these are new tools that we can use and we can indigenize. We were talking about virtual reality, back in the day.

“Fast forward, and when Canada was celebrating its 150th birthday, virtual reality projects from different Indigenous storytellers and filmmakers were being commissioned. They were all really good and they were all significant. But I was thinking, OK, here we go again. We’re going to have technology that’s going to be out there in the world, but we as Indigenous people won’t have ready access to it, unless we’re commissioned or unless somehow there’s something to initiate this.

“What was really important for me was to be out there at the beginning with VR and AR, but also real-time virtual production because that was just starting to come in. The more of us who have these skills, the more we show ourselves as equal in those spaces and, in fact, maybe we have something special to bring.”

Building capacity

IM4 Lab was established in 2019 to make access to these skills free and inclusive to the Indigenous community. The organization has a governance structure that is made up of matriarchs: “The idea was that I didn’t want to just replicate the way the industry works.

I wanted to model a more Indigenous way of how we go about doing our business,” says Todd.

The structure of the grant that IM4 Lab needed to fund its virtual production project made it necessary to partner with Emily Carr University of Art & Design (ECUAD) in Vancouver and the University of Victoria, which were able to support IM4 Lab with the resources and facilities the project needed.

The cohort included 24 creators from a variety of professional and creative backgrounds. It lasted 12 weeks, blending online and in-person learning as attendees worked to create a short film.

Motion capture was a key part of the project, with the creators using a legacy Vicon system for performance capture and camera tracking, adopting the same workflow as studios such as ILM and Pixomondo.

The technical lead was Carlos Vilchis, a virtual production educator and consultant and Unreal-authorized instructor who has worked at AAA studios, including ILM. “The course leaders were completely agnostic about which motion capture technology to use, but I decided to introduce them to Vicon. I thought that if this is the specific technology we use at ILM for virtual production, why not use the same one?” says Vilchis.

“It was really important to make it as professional as we could within the budget we had, so that the cohort can take that knowledge and experience of a professional environment with them when they’re looking for work or making their own films,” says Todd. As well as the equipment and Vilchis, they brought in an experienced director of photography and veteran actors to help create the final shorts.

The story doesn’t stop there, to read the full case study, you can download it below.


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