Virtual Reality on the Horizon

Jul 28, 2020

Imagine if you could swim through a coral reef and take pictures of sharks all while seated at your desk. Imagine taking a stroll through an art gallery filled with digital artwork from around the world without leaving home. Imagine being able to see how sophisticated computers work from the inside out. With virtual and augmented reality, all of this is now possible. For William Peace University alumni Jonas Monanteras ’18 and August Batista ’19, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the work they do every day at Horizon Productions. 

Jonas and August are both graduates of WPU’s Simulation and Game Design Program (SGD). Jonas came to Peace as a freshman after a visit to campus left him impressed by the small class sizes, the personalized attention he would get from faculty, like Professor Roger Christman, and the SGD Lab. Jonas’ focus on academics led him to also join the Honors Program at Peace. 

August came to Peace after a two year early college program at a trade school, drawn not only to the SGD major but also to WPU’s theatre department. In addition to his classes, he also starred in a WPU Theatre production and worked as a stage technical manager on several others. 

As SGD majors, Jonas and August spent their time at Peace learning how to master the design, 3D modeling, and programming used in developing video games. But the applications for the skills they learned goes far beyond just gaming; it’s used in military, healthcare, academic, and industrial applications. Both August and Jonas thought they would be designing video games after graduation, not educating the masses on climate change. But all that changed when Jonas met Jason Cooper, Chief Digital Officer at Horizon Productions. 

Cooper was invited to speak for a class of SGD majors. Jonas, fascinated by the work Horizon was doing, approached Jason to learn more. That conversation led to an internship, during which Jonas worked on a Augmented Reality (AR)  experience for the Hydrous. At Horizon, he spent hours sharpening his skills with Unreal Engine to develop an engaging experience featuring highly detailed photogrammetry models of coral reefs. The final project was an underwater world where you can explore, interact with marine life, discover corals around the globe, and learn about ongoing research. Impressed by his skills and his well-rounded knowledge, Horizon offered Jonas a full-time job right after graduation. 

“I feel like Peace created a major that perfectly prepared me with the skills for the job I have today,” said Jonas. “WPU showed me careers using virtual design technology that goes far beyond just entertainment. We learned how to use the Unreal Engine software–the technology behind video game production—but also movie-making, virtual reality, and a host of other uses. I now get to use that technology every day.”     

“I feel like Peace created a major that perfectly prepared me with the skills for the job I have today. WPU showed me careers using virtual design technology that goes far beyond just entertainment. We learned how to use the Unreal Engine software–the technology behind video game production—but also movie-making, virtual reality, and a host of other uses. I now get to use that technology every day.”

Jonas Monanteras ’18

The following year when August was searching for his senior internship, Professor Christman recommended he reach out to Jason and Jonas at Horizon. August landed an internship and worked on programming for augmented and virtual reality projects for a variety of industries including, agriculture, tech, and medical research.  

“I felt prepared on day one of my internship. I knew I had the skills that would allow me to be successful, and I knew I could learn and adapt to new concepts and skills. And it was fantastic to have a friend and alum working there also, so I could turn to for help and advice,” said August. 

As August’s internship came to a close, Jason and the Horizon team knew they didn’t want to lose a great team member. Like Jonas, August received a full-time employment offer right after graduation to continue his work at Horizon Productions. 

“WPU is probably the best-kept secret in Raleigh. The students and graduates are so well prepared! Not only do they have the necessary technical skills, but they have excellent writing, communication, and other soft skills. In our industry, we hire people who have the skills for the future of our work,” said Cooper. 

Strategic partnerships, like those between William Peace University and Horizon Productions, are a core component of the Believe in Peace Strategic Plan. These partnerships benefit both the University and the organization. For Horizon, they have access to a new talent pool for their workforce. For WPU, and students like Jonas and August, the connection with Horizon Productions has led to excellent educational opportunities. To continue this connection, this summer Jason Cooper joined the William Peace University Foundation Board. “When Jodi Stamey, Vice President for University Advancement, approached me about joining the Foundation Board, I jumped at the opportunity to help the University succeed and continue to produce such outstanding graduates.”  

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