Rocklin Woman helps shine a light on deaf community in VR documentary – CBS Sacramento
ROCKLIN (CBS13) — A Rocklin woman has taken her love for virtual sign language. She was featured in a documentary that premiered at Sundance about meeting people through virtual reality, with part of it focusing on the deaf community.
Even before she learned to speak, Tia Johnson communicated with sign language.
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“I was brought up with sign language as a kid,” she said. “It’s really great for the deaf or other kids to learn the signs.”
Johnson quickly realized signing would be a lifelong passion.
“I started volunteering at local churches for the deaf and doing odd jobs,” she said.
She eventually joined Helping Hands, a group that offers classes and social events with over 4,000 members, all in virtual reality.
“OOur Virtual Reality Deaf community is so big and proud,” Johnson said.
His work teaching virtual classes caught the eye of documentary filmmaker Joe Hunting.
“It was a story that was definitely worth sharing,” Hunting said.
Hunting directed “We Met In Virtual Reality,” a story that follows three virtual reality characters, including Jenny – the pink-haired sign language teacher and Johnson’s real-life avatar.
Hunting was inspired to make the film after the pandemic hit in 2020.
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“COVID has been a pivotal time for virtual reality,” he said. “The relationships everyone had were important because we couldn’t meet in person anymore.”
The film took off and premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.
“It couldn’t have gone better for the movie,” Hunting said.
But how does a feature film entirely shot in virtual reality work?
“I’m holding a camera in my avatar’s hand,” Hunting said.
In real life, the camera is a controller that has the ability to zoom and act like a real film camera, while Johnson and Hunting come with headphones and full tracking suits, including gloves capable of detecting movement.
“So when I move each of my fingers, it translates that into code, and then that code communicates with my avatar,” Johnson said. “I I sign in game and I sign in real life at the same time.
Johnson’s goal going forward is to make the film successful and bring more attention to the deaf community.
“I’m really happy to have this opportunity. So thank you very much,” Johnson said.
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The movie “We Met In Virtual Reality” has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%.