How TecnoLatinx Uses Emerging Tech to Highlight Diversity

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About TecnoLatinx

TecnoLatinx XR Lab’s mission is to engage individuals and organizations in emerging technology as active participants and content creators.

TecnoLatinx XR Lab is a first-of-its-kind active learning center and immersive education hub located in Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) Historic Core District, connecting our emerging content creators to LA’s innovative art and technology scene.

TecnoLatinx participants

We work to empower our members to create EmTech experiences that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles. We are an inclusive community coming together to create deeply needed space for women and people of color to collaborate, learn, build confidence and launch projects using virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360 media production tools.

One of our most popular programs has been VR Sculpting, which combines artistic and technical project challenges in a fun and welcoming learning environment. Our current student cohort is creating culturally-relevant 3D objects inspired by their childhood memories. These sculpts will then become part of our permanent 3D library hosted on Sketchfab, allowing for future content creators to use in their stories and world building.

About TecnoLatinx’s Cofounders

Martha Mendizabal, cofounder of TecnoLatinx XR Lab and former Wall Street derivatives broker, transitioned from investment finance to social entrepreneurship with a mission to build an EmTech active learning lab that puts computing power in underserved communities.

Nadia Munoz, is a startup lawyer and former Senior Project Manager at New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), where she led the innovative redevelopment of the East Harlem cultural institution, La Marqueta Public Market. As cofounder of TecnoLatinx XR Lab, Nadia seeks to empower underrepresented communities to create and share their stories using innovative and powerful EmTech tools and mediums.

TecnoLatinx + 3D

Our love for 3D sculpting and world making grew out of the desire to empower storytellers from all communities and backgrounds!

When searching for Latinx-themed 3D sculpted objects for our student workshops, we could not find any objects that resonated with their childhood memories and stories, so we set out to create our own!!

Together as a community of emerging creators and teaching artists, like our lead VR Artist-in-Residence Steve Vazquez, we used this discovery as an opportunity to fuel our desire to learn new 3D sculpting skills. Since then, our students have continued to use innovative apps like Oculus Medium to create our first batch of culturally themed VR-ready objects and assets. These assets now form part of the permanent TecnoLatinx Sketchfab and Google Poly collection for use by future VR storytellers.

TecnoLatinx VR

At the core of what we do is the belief that it’s never too late to start learning a new skill. Our XR Lab is fully equipped with 3D sculpting tools, including emerging software and hardware options that can accommodate different artistic styles and approaches.

Each of our 3D sculpts have been created using VR creator tools, allowing for a fun and innovative introduction to 3D skill building. In addition to cultivating self-initiated learning at our XR Lab, we will be launching a new series of 3D Sculpt Camps this summer! Our aim is to get youth excited about 3D creator tools, starting with sculpting inside virtual environments.

Why 3D?

Since our launch into the 3D content space, our work has continued to be representative, and a response to, the needs of our emerging creators and storytellers.

Currently, we are focused on a broader initiative to bring VR-sculpted 3D Objects of items that would likely be found in Latinx kitchens, homes, and neighborhoods into the virtual space. This is extremely important because we are acting as both a platform to encourage acts of cultural preservation and as a bridge to accessing the technology and knowledge that is required to do so.

TecnoLatinx’s Tools and Workflow

All of our 3D content creation is done by using VR apps like Oculus Medium, Blocks and Tilt Brush by Google, Quill VR and other emerging technology tools like volumetric capture and (soon to include) photogrammetry! From there, our students are learning post-production tools like Blender, ZBrush, Unity and Unreal to take their 3D creations to the next level!

Challenges

Knowing that the way we interact as a society is rapidly changing, we understand the tremendous value is learning skills that will become even more relevant to how we collaborate and work with each other in the future. Preparing our members for this future of work is definitely a huge motivator in overcoming any technical challenges that are part of learning a new skill – program crashes, new documentation releases or endless beta updates to emerging tech tools – we are ready to tackle any 3D skill challenge! This, in combination with networks and partnerships at different tech companies, gaming and media studios creates a viable and exciting career pathway!

Once we built our inventory of 3D objects, we wanted our library to be accessible to all future lab members, educators and emerging creators – that’s where Sketchfab came in! Our Lab members love the platform because it offers a lot of control over how they present their 3D artwork, scenes and characters to the world. Our students love the VR feature, allowing for simple integration into their VR design workflow.

Advice for Beginners

It’s never too late to start! When we first started working with 3D tools, we discovered that VR would be the best path toward building our 3D skills and collective know-how. From there, we expanded our understanding of the 3D landscape to include innovative preservation methods like volumetric capture and photogrammetry. Also, it’s essential that you find your local 3D creator community to keep you motivated and innovative- whether online or in RT!

The Future of 3D

By leveraging 3D captured video and images, heritage organizations can add an extra dimension to their work, one that is much more compelling and visceral, beyond what words or 2D mediums offer.

When our students get to ‘hold’ their 3D sculpts in their hands to tell their own stories – that’s when the 3D magic really happens.

TecnoLatinx’s Favorite Models

This is one of our student’s 3D sculpts made using Oculus Medium depicting a traditional birthday party must-have, a colorful treat-filled piñata! This object is a classic childhood memory and was added to our growing library of cultural heritage 3D assets.

Judy Baca’s ‘Great Wall of Los Angeles’ 3D capture because it’s iconic LA and the mural represents a way of utilizing storytelling to unite a community, showcasing the diversity and uniqueness of LA’s history and collective identity.

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About the author

Nadia Munoz and Martha Mendizabal

We work hard to empower our students to create EmTech experiences that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles.


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