WoW Woman in AR / VR | María Laura Ruggiero, filmmaker, animator and narrative designer

Interview by Denise Rey

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María Laura Ruggiero is an Argentine filmmaker, animator and narrative designer specialized in transmedia storytelling. Her work has been featured in several international programs regarding emerging media such as Mutek, Power to the Pixel, TransmediaNext, Forward Storytelling, FIPA. She’s a teacher (EICTV CUBA, UBA Argentina) and international speaker regarding topics of narrative language innovation and virtual reality (Berlinale, SXSW, TEDx, MIT, Mutek). She’s a Berlinale Alumni, Member of Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, FNA winner, NATPE Diversity Fellow and Jihlava Emerging Producer. She’s part of the Amplify cohort, an international initiative that supports women and non binaries in digital media sponsored by Mutek, British Council, and Somerset House. María Laura guides the StoryHackers Lab, a Pop Up Lab supported by OEI and the Board of Culture of Argentina, where she guides audiences into the exploration of new narrative languages and the impact of positive world building techniques. She runs SeirenFilms, a company devoted to the exploration of new narrative frontiers in emerging media. 

What is the idea behind your projects / ideas and how did you come up with it? 

I studied Image and sound design, with the idea of becoming a filmmaker. And I did. Early on, my interest was in storytelling and I trained in the creative writing field intensively but I also had a clear love for technology since I can remember. From my love for the first Board Bulletin systems in Argentina, to videogames and 3D animation. At that moment, I wanted to create a permanent writers room for different platforms that commercially, back then were just Film and TV. And then came the internet as we know it, and brought the concept of transmedia storytelling, immersive storytelling and all we know now as XR. I just organically found my passion: How Stories and Technologies create new, more powerful, more interactive—alternative ways to tell stories. SeirenFilms now still produces and writes traditional media but its main focus is on research, creation and production of emerging media. 

When did all start and do you have other members in your team? 

It started during my first selection at the Berlinale Talents (Germany) where I felt the need to produce my own film projects. Then it evolved and expanded in time into a small lab that works not only in film but also focuses on non traditional platforms of storytelling. In the last few years, I opened the StoryHackers initiative which is the educational branch of Seirenfilms, a nomad lab about the future of storytelling. SeirenFilms is a one-person business that works with a constellation of companies and collaborators creating teams specifically for different projects. Most of the teams I work with are led by women: Carolina Alvarez (Ah!Cine), Yashira Jordán (Celeste Estudio), Ana Fraile (PulpoFilms) and Gaby Brenes (Radio Ambulante, Chicas Poderosas) 

How long did it take you to be where you are now? 

It’s a process. I don’t feel like I am anywhere in particular now, I believe it’s all an organic process of knowing myself, recreating myself and therefore my project grows along with me and the environment. From idea to this moment, it’s a journey of roughly 15 years shapeshifting all along. 

What was the biggest obstacle? 

There are many challenges, most of them I believe have to do with living in Latin America where access to technology is expensive and difficult. Even though SeirenFilms is story driven, technology definitely matters. We try to work with accessible, cheap, open tech, but of course for development, for education and experimentation, we would love to have more access to new technologies. Same thing happens with access to festivals: access and diversity in lineups are still an issue to solve, especially coming from Latin America. 

What are your biggest achievements to date? 

StoryHackers took part of SXSW 3 years in a row so far teaching workshops on XR and storytelling. We also participated in incredible events and programs such as Mutek, MIT ODL, America’s Cultural Summit, Berlinale, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, and more. I’m personally going to be teaching at ONA, Online News Association for the first time this September which is super exciting. Also, beyond awards and nominations, being part of the Amplify Cohort, an initiative to amplify the work of women and non binaries in digital creation and electronic music, sponsored by Somerset House, British Council and Mutek is something that I feel definitely proud of. 

What are your projects you are currently working on within your company? 

I’m working on several projects. In terms of storytelling some of them are Kintsugi (Live cinema!), MABS (Scientific VR ), Dream Parkour(interactive) and Diamante (Film). We’re also working on expanding the StoryHackers lab to different countries and creating a book on narrative structures in Spanish. 

What will be the key trends in the AR/VR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading? 

Technology needs to flow and evolve from clanky, uncool headsets, to a more invisible technology that blends with the environment. I feel that both VR and AR will evolve in its own way, as well, as dome projection and room scale storytelling. There won’t be one way to tell stories in XR, but different approaches, purposes, genres and platforms. We need to experiment more in how those technologies relate to the structures and poetry of the stories themselves. It is very much about tech as it is about language. And language needs diversity and time as key ingredients in its development. 

What are the challenges of being a female founder and entrepreneur in AR/VR? 

We share many of the challenges of women in tech in general: lack of representation, lack of opportunities as speakers, male dominated environment and lots, I mean LOTS of mansplaining. 

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in AR/VR out there? 

Create diverse teams. Keep creating opportunities for more women in tech, film and more women and non binaries in general, in all the creative industries. Look for mentors, collaborators and build strength in sharing your experiences to shatter the glass ceiling together. Hire women when you can. Create content and stories that help us envision the reality we want to inhabit. 

Who are your 3 inspirational women in AR/VR? 

Jessica Brillhart, former Google now at VRAI, she’s the Queen. Our Elvis to all things XR. Her generosity, down to earth yet poetic experimentation is very inspirational. 

Mónika Bielskyte, amazing world builder with a sensitive, diverse and powerful view of the future. 

Kamal Sinclair, from Sundance New Frontiers a key role model in understanding the power diversity in tech and stories.

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This interview was conducted by Denise Rey - Women of Wearables Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Denise is a designer with a multidisciplinary background. She has a double degree in Industrial Design and Textile Design from the University of Buenos Aires. She is currently working on an insurtech project and is developing a makerspace focused on hardware programming. She strongly believes in the idea that we are all makers. Follow Denis on Twitter: @denalcubo or Linkedin: Denise Rey