Women’s History Month: Q&A with Baobab Studios CEO Maureen Fan, Horizon Creators, ‘The Freefall Dancer,’ and a Special Tribute in Venues

Oculus Blog
March 26, 2021

As Women’s History Month draws near a close, we continue to celebrate, honoring the contributions of women around the world. In addition to highlighting women creators in Facebook Horizon, we’re continuing to curate a “Made By” content and experiences series that highlights women creatives and the lived experiences of women. Today, we’re sharing a deep dive Q&A with Baobab Studios CEO Maureen Fan, as well as some relevant content in Oculus TV and Venues.

Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up.

Maureen Fan: I’m from New Jersey, the East Coast. New Jersey is my favorite place in the world. I’m Asian-American, and I didn’t grow up in an Asian-American community. I was one of two Asian Americans in my school, so that was difficult. And then I came out here to California, where there are tons of Asian Americans. So it was, in a way, a culture shock.

I knew I wanted to do entertainment. I knew I wanted to do animation. I loved animation because when I was young, I was very shy and quiet and always aware of being the other. And because of that, animation was a wonderful way to escape. And in animation, you’re only limited by your creativity within your head—so it’s not limited by society. I came out here to go to Stanford and I looked up all the positions that they had open in animation companies. They all require either Communications or Econ majors, so I started doing those two but found them not very challenging. I took a computer science class and loved it because it was really difficult, and I got into that. Then I loved human-centered design—so computer science with psychology. And then I took an animation class, and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do it.” So I designed my own major. It was computer science, art, and psychology, because that is the perfect major for animation.

Where did that lead?

MF: I loved it, but my parents are immigrants, and they felt that pursuing my dreams in animation would leave me poor and destitute, so they forbade a life in entertainment. Instead of going into animation, I used that degree to go into UI design at eBay. I started off as a UI designer and then a user experience designer, then a cultural anthropologist, and then I went into strategy. At the end, I was a senior product manager. And nights and weekends, I kept on doing animation on the side. I was taking figure drawing classes and taking whatever classes I could because I was just waiting for the day where I had enough money in stock options from eBay that I could quit and not worry about being poor and destitute, and I could go get an MFA, because I really wanted to be an art director in animation.

But when five years had passed, I decided to apply, but the deadlines for MFAs had all passed. And the only thing available was round three of business school. My mom urged me to apply. I didn’t want to because I hate business, but I did it because I always listen to my mom. I got in and was going to decline because I wanted to do art. But my boss said, “Don’t be an idiot. Try out Hollywood before you say no to Harvard.”

So I ended up emailing everyone in the Stanford alumni database for internships and jobs. I did a whole bunch of internships and learned that everything’s a business at the end of the day. Business people often take advantage of creatives, and that wasn't going to happen to me. So I ended up going to Harvard Business School. And then in between, I went to Pixar. I was the intern there. I loved it, but also realized that it was part of an industry that was very mature, not as many challenges.

What happened after graduation?

MF: When I graduated, I ended up going to Zynga right when they started. I think I was the only female PM there at the time. And I joined in 2009, and was there for five or six years reporting to the CEO and became vice president of games there over the next few years, looking over the Farmville franchise. I loved it because I was creating animation. I was introducing gaming to a whole new audience of people who didn’t think they were gamers.

From that experience, I learned how to be an entrepreneur. But very importantly there, I found my voice. Because there are times it’s very alpha male and you need to speak up to be heard. That’s where I found my confidence. And I realized that when I am aggressive upwards, rather than respecting hierarchy, when I am aggressive myself and state my opinions upwards, people respect that, and they sense that confidence and feel like you’re leader-like and give you more opportunities. And the time where it’s best to speak up is when you’re doing really well. At that point you ask for even more, because then I learned, they’re like, “Wow, she’s not even okay with doing really well. She wants to be even better. That’s the type of person we want leading.” Right? So that’s where I found my voice.

What path led you to starting Baobab Studios?

MF: Nights and weekends while I was at Zynga, I worked on this short animated film called The Dam Keeper with my friends from Pixar, for my internship. It got nominated for the Oscars. I just couldn’t stop doing animation. I absolutely loved it. So I just kept doing it on the side. And then I met Glenn Entis, who’s a co-founder of PDI/Dreamworks Animation. He was also at Electronic Arts as their CTO. He was consulting at Zynga. I found out that he had started PDI/Dreamworks, and I said, “You will be my mentor.” He’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t have time.” I’m like, “You just wait.” And I forced my way into a mentorship with him.

And when VR came about, I realized that it was an opportunity most creatively and business-wise. From a VR perspective, from a business perspective, no one has an advantage. Right? It’s new. Disney picked it up. Nobody has an advantage, which means that it’s disruptive. So it’s a great time to form a new company. And then creatively, I love animation because it brings you back to that five-year-old sense of self where you thought anything was possible. And when you grow older society forces you to conform to values of fame, money, fortune, beauty. But when you watch animation, you're brought back to that five-year-old sense of self where you think anything’s possible.

Animation is so awesome because you feel you’re in that world and you can reach out and touch it. And VR lets you do that. It was a perfect storm, so I decided to start my own company. I asked Glenn Entis, “Do you know any directors?” He introduced me to Eric Darnell, who directed Antz and all the Madagascar films. Eric joined me, and Larry Cutler joined me, and that’s how it started.

Did you have any strong women role models growing up?

MF: Well, my mom is very bad-ass, so that's helpful. Both of my parents worked, but my mom is like a genius. And she was always working when I was young, so I definitely had that to look up to. But when I was at eBay, I didn’t even realize there were these issues with sexism. All my bosses were female at eBay. And I wonder if that had something to do with Meg Whitman being the CEO. But all of my bosses at eBay, my entire team, except for one guy, was female. And so I thought, of course I can do anything. And in fact, the Head of Product Lynn Reedy was also a woman. It was like all women, up the chain. It wasn’t until I went to business school, honestly, that I realized there were issues with sexism.

And then the other thing is, once you’re in a situation with all men, when things aren’t happening for you in your career, you start thinking that maybe it’s you, because you don’t want to blame the system. There’s research that shows that men tend to blame the system while women blame themselves. But in blaming yourself, the more things aren’t happening the way that you think they should and it’s not fair, the more you start believing those things about yourself—that there’s something wrong with you.

Did you ever run into that in your career?

MF: At Zynga, there was a time where I felt that I should be promoted and I wasn’t being promoted. I was really annoyed because I knew you mostly get promoted based off of metrics—if you move the numbers more than someone else, which made it a meritocracy, which is great. So I didn’t understand why.

At the time, I was Director of Product and I wanted to be promoted to General Manager. And I emailed my business school professor, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, who has the best name ever. I said, “I need you to email me all the articles on women in leadership.” And so I printed them all out and I started highlighting things and I gave it to my boss. Kudos to my boss for making me feel comfortable enough to be able to do this for him. And I said, “You’re doing this to me.”

And he came back to me. He’s like, “You know what I realized? I realized that I didn’t promote you because you're a woman. Because I feel protective of you as a woman. And this is a Farmville franchise. It is a crown jewel of Zynga. And I want you to be two levels above where any normal person would be so that nobody could fight against you or to say you don’t deserve it. But I realized if you were a guy, I would have just promoted you and let you swim with the sharks. And I just was feeling protective of you, but that’s not fair.”

And so he fixed it right away. And that really taught me, by the way, that it’s not women that we need to be educating. I mean, yes, we need to educate women, too, but it’s really the people in power who need to be educated because they will change if they really feel it. We have to give them a chance, but they need to understand. I would say I really found my voice because of him, and he was a man. So I think we can have advocates, whether they’re women or men.

What other advocates have you come across?

MF: Also at Zynga, I had this wonderful mentor. She was the first person who I asked to be my mentor, Anne Raimondi, and she’s an amazing visionary in the startup world. I asked her because she was someone who I felt was both kind, ethical, and very successful. And for some reason, sometimes in corporate America, you feel like the way to be successful is to be political and sometimes unethical. And she was someone I want to be like. But because she is the way she is, she has a bajillion friends. She’s like the most networked person because people just gravitate towards her. So she helped me so much as my mentor.

I remember when I graduated from business school, I asked her to help me find a job at a startup. And she asked me, “What are your criteria? Would you care about team size?” And she came up with a list of startups for me. She did that work for me. And then she set up informational interviews for me with all of them. So I already had a leg in for all of them. So, that’s just the power of mentors.

Right now, Jane Rosenthal is my mentor. She’s a founder of Tribeca Film Festival. She is so amazing. So yeah, I like to surround myself with these strong female leads. And Vicki Dobbs Beck. When I was deciding whether or not to go to business school or not, she was one of the people I emailed in the Stanford alumni database, Vicki, and she heads up ILMxLAB. We kept in touch, so she’s mentored me throughout the years too. So for sure I’ve had many different female role models.

What advice would you give young girls who are looking to pursue a career in VR or animation?

MF: Well, it depends if you want to direct or produce. Right? But the nice thing about art, in general, is you don’t need permission. It’s not like how you need an MD to be a doctor. People who want to create content, you don’t need to ask permission—you just do it. In fact, if you want to direct, the best directors are those who are like, “Try to stop me. I have a vision and I;m going to make it happen. And you can either choose to jump on my train or not, but I’m going places. And you snooze, you lose.” And that attitude—I need this vision to go out in the world; the world needs to hear this—that’s how you create content. And no, you don’t need permission.

The best directors, they don't wait in line. They just go and direct. They get their friends to come do stuff. They borrow equipment. They just make stuff. So that, in general, in the creative industries, is what I advise people to do. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Just ask for forgiveness—you don’t have to ask for permission. So that’s my philosophy in content creation, overall. And for VR, in fact, the less experience you have, maybe even the better, because to be honest it’s creating something new. And I found that sometimes when people come from existing industries, they bring along a lot of preconceived notions of how things should be. And when you’re trying to create a new medium, you have to free yourself from the existing ways of thinking to be able to see completely new paradigms. So I think youth and lack of experience can actually be a huge advantage here because it allows you to be creative.

I have a caveat though, that you might not want to say because it's controversial. As a woman, there are times where you will encounter insecure people. There are times when I have to go into a room, because I have to do a lot of business development as a CEO, people will automatically think that I'm going to be shy, sweet, and submissive, because of how I look, because of my race. And it’s annoying that I have to quickly correct that, that there’s preconceived notions when I go in. And there are people that will find you threatening because you’re not fitting into the societal system that you’re supposed to fit in. So this is a generalization, but I find that very secure men actually really like when I’m extremely confident and don’t treat them with a certain hierarchy. They pay attention and they love it. They’re like, “Oh, she’s treating me like I’m her equal. She’s a leader.”

But there are times when there are insecure people who are different, who don’t like it. And so, they will say that you’re too entrepreneurial, as though that’s a negative. “Maureen, you’re too entrepreneurial.” So I do want to warn that it’s not that if you just suddenly beat your chest and are confident that everything’s going to be awesome—you’re going to run into those roadblocks and you have to be okay with it. You have to go in with your eyes open, knowing that that will happen, and be like, “That’s okay. I choose to be respected over being liked.”

You’re constantly unlocking new worlds, new experiences, bringing things to life in VR that put people in your storylines. How do you fuel that inspiration?

MF: Well, the amazing thing about creating content is it’s limitless. Right? Again, you’re limited only by your imagination. There’s so many stories that we want to tell, and I believe that storytelling is in our DNA. If you have ever read the book Sapiens, it’s why they believe Homo sapiens won out as a species—because we were able to tell rumors. We were like, “Don’t go over there. There’s a lion over there. Do you remember when Thor stood up and struck that lion down?” And then the kids are like, “Oh my God!” It’s through storytelling that they feel that we went out and shared information and evolved. So stories are a way for us to experience characters in stories beyond those we get to meet in our personal lives. It’s the way we connect to other humans. It’s through empathy, like how would I feel if I were in that situation? So I think it’s just part of what is being human.

I just am always excited about telling stories because that’s what we do. But I’m always excited about just being with my artists and engineers. Right? I love animation. It’s my life's mission. The mission of our company is to inspire the world to dream by bringing out your sense of wonder, make you matter. And these people who work at our company, their artwork, the things that they create on a daily basis, are just so inspiring. And I always have to think, wow, I need to be so grateful that I get to be creating animation. Who gets to do that? It’s very rare. Who will give you a bucket of money to be able to follow your dreams and to make animation? So, yeah, I love my job.

The Freefall Dancer, Made By Sophia Pécout on Oculus TV

Watch the incredible journey of a female classical dancer turned skydiving world champion in the TARGO immersive documentary The Freefall Dancer.

Discover Sophia Pécout’s story, from the floor of the Opera to the skies—the journey of a woman who transformed her dance experience into a flying freefalling choreography. Watch it on Oculus TV today.

Venues Live Event: Celebrating the First Ever All-Female NBA Referee Crew

Celebrate Women’s History Month as we present a special feature on the first ever all-female NBA referee crew during halftime—only in Venues—when the Denver Nuggets take on the New Orleans Pelicans today at 5:00 pm PT. Click here to subscribe to tonight’s event.

Celebrating Women Creators in Facebook Horizon

Last but not least, we sat down with five world-building women to learn more about their work in Horizon—a unique social experience in VR where we’re building an inclusive, vibrant, and diverse community.

Shown here, Facebook Horizon world Belong, created by Ruth Diaz. Avatars shown are of community guides and staff who enjoyed this tour of highlighted user worlds.

Creator: Ruth Diaz
World: Belong

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Ruth Diaz: Much of what happens in life feels like just a journey to somewhere else. And then sometimes, in rare moments of accidental or what we might sense as a destined collision, we encounter the thing we didn’t know we were looking for, the place where our belonging is found, and we know we are on purpose. This world is about giving every VR wanderer an archetypal experience of home and a mystical skywalk through a solar system that both seems familiar and new at the same time. There are questions along the way for anyone curious to talk about deeper topics and the views from many angles are quite extraordinary.

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

RD: When I made this world, I was finding my own sense of path and community in a social VR application that seemed to have a great mix of world building tools to grow a conflict resiliency model I teach in real life and community I could see potentially turning into lifelong friendships. This relationship model is called the Deepen, Orient, Transform (DOT) model and reminds us how conflict can be the birthplace of connection. Belong was a contemplative art project for me to realize that while I did not normally have interest in VR as a way to connect with others, COVID had brought me into a state of social hunger and isolation that made me reconsider how to meet my needs of belonging. Many people come to this world and recount the mythology of Wizard of Oz because of the winding yellow path with purple bricks. As I created this world purple brick by brick, I realized that I was making a connective funnel to bring potential new friends and weary wanderers to invest in a conversational journey with those who might join me in exploring intentional relationships and true inclusivity.

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

RD: Belong was born from creating colliding planets in a different collaborative world where they were taking up too much space and I wanted to give them a home before I deleted them in the original world. I knew I was relatively new at creating and this was my first attempt at scaling sculpture and animating it (I had used up at least 50% of the shapes and dynamics in the first world with these complex colliding spheres and felt embarrassed and afraid of what my new friends might think of me). When I got them into the new world, I felt sad at how lonely they looked and wanted to give them a solar system where they belonged. Instead of having a sun in the middle, I imported and upgraded a home I had built in my first create mode I had entered with someone who taught me about the importance of making things to scale. The journey to the home and the questions that were born from it naturally followed. The visitors who came in and talked to me as I built were my first friends in Horizon, and I still think of them fondly (Dannica, TheWizard2040, SirChess). They each added a small touch to the home that made me feel grounded and like I belonged.

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

RD: I am guessing this world took me a couple weeks to build and many dozens of hours. Since then, I have built at least 50 of my own and several dozen collaborations and I haven’t significantly edited it for many months. Many of my worlds have followed Belong in the naming convention of one word names. I will often have the name come to me as I am finishing it up. Sometimes I don’t even understand the name until weeks later when a visitor will tell me how it makes sense to them. I still view this world with great affection, even though I would build it very differently now. It was my birthing chamber as a community builder and world creator in VR. My latest world is called Grace and is about the emotional labor women of every color find themselves doing without the acknowledgement or support for all they are carrying.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

RD: I have had conversations around toxic patriarchy and celebrating and empowering women more in the last six months than I have in my entire life, so I’m glad to be a part of anything that inspires and empowers more women to know they have a voice and can become trendsetters for future women in the physical world and VR. Recently I met a woman who asked for help with her world building and then built me a treasure box full of gold (and even an octopus on top!) for my self-affirmations world Reseed. She even wrapped it in a VR box and bow and presented it to me proudly. In that moment, I felt so rich remembering how many women I have focused on empowering to realize their dreams in Horizon, and so connected to all that have empowered me. We then went to her world and made a trigger for her CD player when the user pushes a button. It’s always fun to be a world elf and make what now feels like simple magic to me transform someone’s belief in the viability of their world.

If you could hang out with one woman, past or present, fiction or non-fiction, in Horizon, who would it be and why?

RD: Karen Kempner, Mark Zuckerburg’s mom. I’m curious to celebrate and uplift someone who held and supported a leader that has been so indirectly influential in my and millions of people’s lives. Horizon has been a synthesis for my personal and professional identities to merge like melting metals into an entirely different shine. They say behind every successful man is a powerful woman. I am curious to meet this woman and learn how she raised someone who made an app with space for someone like me. Alternatively, my favorite experience of Women’s History Month was an event put on by Paige and VR Women in Horizon where Lola Omolola shared her experience of leadership and community. Her proven model of creating inclusive safe spaces for women through Facebook technology gave me hope that I am on the right path with what I’ve been doing to grow a diverse community in Horizon. I would hang out with Lola more!

What role does VR have to play in uplifting underrepresented voices?

RD: At one of the last #diversityjam2021 meetings, a young person who had never been to one of these weekly world creator support groups listened on mute quietly for about a half hour before responding to a question I had asked several times already: If you were to dare greatly and make a world to include a marginalized person or voice, what would you create? He unmuted himself and stepped forward. The 15 people present waited silently until he expressed his dream. This person identified themselves with great effort and many pauses as having neurodiversity and difficulty with speech. They said that if they could learn world creation they would make a world on Asperger’s and stuttering. I was amazed at their courage and willingness to be so vulnerable with a group of strangers. I gently informed them that when a new world idea is birthed in this group, instead of clapping (because we can’t do that in Horizon), we jump up and down to celebrate the new idea. I asked them if it was okay if we all jumped up and down to celebrate their world idea. They agreed and laughed as 15 people jumped up and down saying, “Yay Asperger’s and stuttering!” So many people have shared vulnerable pieces of their lives in the events over the last few months around intersectionial identity and centering marginalized parts of ourselves and each other. We are finishing up half a dozen worlds by people in this most recent jam that are stretching into the vulnerability of sharing new perspectives on identities of disability, race, stereotypes, and gender norms.

I believe that VR is the final and beginning frontier of human consciousness where we can dream again and create the worlds we think we want and realize eventually how boring that is (I hit this point around 30 worlds in). Then we can reach out and connect with those around whom we may have felt overwhelmed, or we were just uninterested to learn about. In my experience, we build much better worlds when we work together to combine our vision through conflict and connection into a more diverse and inclusive space.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

RD: Part of my ongoing efforts to create belonging for myself and others in VR is through my research as a social scientist. I would love for more people to fill out this qualitative five-minute survey on my VRCreateConnect website. I am learning so much from the answers people are sharing and already starting to create psychoeducational worlds influenced by what people are expressing in their posts on what they hope for and what they fear in VR. I am also de-identifying and publishing the results on the website regularly for anyone curious to join this effort of creating health and conscious culture in VR with me.

Creator: Navah Berg
World: Horizon Runway

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Navah Berg: Dress up! Come enjoy a night out (or a casual day 😉) with friends in a unique, interactive way. This world was created to showcase the window of opportunity for VR, fashion, style, and fun. The goal is to inspire creativity and go beyond the limits to immerse within a community-driven world.

A highlight was last Halloween when I updated the world and invited friends and fellow Horizon members to collaborate with their own version of a Halloween costume for a costume party. I had a blast working with the community. With the unfortunate neighborhood Halloween restrictions in 2020, it was fun to host a spooky scene where people could engage and share a trick or treat with the community!

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

NB: I’ve always loved fashion and accessories, bright colors, and funky styles. I grew up with Madonna and always took the road less traveled when it came to fashion. When wearables were first launched, I immediately thought, (chime in “Dress You Up” by Madonna) “How am I going to dress up my avatar?” It was like the old days of Facebook Spaces when I used to update my shirt daily. I was definitely influenced by the Tomy // Hasbro Fashion plates because when I was creating outfits I thought of them as mix and matches and created different colors.

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

NB: Normally, I put together a concept before I start creating. When coming up with ideas, something normally pops in my head and then I dive into the research, find out what’s trending, what the months/seasons look like, and continue to Pinterest for more inspiration. Finally I organize all ideas in a Google doc or Asana. When I first began building in Horizon I had to do it a bit differently—in the beginning there weren’t as many worlds as there are now, so I had to learn a whole new way of design through architecture and 3D shapes. I started studying architecture magazines, tangrams, math logic books (which I was able to download for free during the pandemic), and searched 3D shape buildings. Once I had my idea down, I used actual 3D tangram sets to practice being creative with specific shapes to see how I was going to create a runway, fashion scene, and some selfie-ready backgrounds.

During my build, new features popped up, so I created a wand and added sparkles to the scene.

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

NB: I have updated and cloned older versions but there’s something about a little cosplay, community collaboration, and dressing up as a meme that makes it hard for me to update the costumes. However, the goal is to add new outfits and change the scenery in Horizon Runway every four months. Recently, I connected with another creator and we may join runway worlds to create a mini game, so stay tuned!

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

NB: This time of year, I slow down the daily, real-time pace of my social media and VR life and lift all the women rocking it and spotlight them. If it’s in a video, a like, a comment or share, recommendations—really anything I can do to promote and support her work.

It feels really special to be a part of Horizon early on and be able to sprinkle that magic into social VR, where interactions are real and connections are more than a like, comment, or thread in a 2D feed. The ultimate goal for me is to make it an environment where we all feel as one and where being a good human is more important than anything else.

If you could hang out with one woman, past or present, fiction or non-fiction, in Horizon, who would it be and why?

NB: There are so many incredible people in Horizon with really moving stories, and I’m sure the people whom I would love to spill the tea with already have a long line of people waiting, so why not focus on the real, everyday people?

What role does VR have to play in uplifting underrepresented voices?

NB: It’s an entirely new space with no benchmarks or boundaries. Anyone who adopts the technology becomes instantly entrenched in the community and can meet people outside of their bubble, giving them a bigger view to get to know more about underrepresented voices, from the voice itself—literally.

I’d urge anyone and everyone to try it, at your own pace and any journey you choose. I feel so cliché even writing this but VR does defy distance and immerses into worlds untraveled.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

NB: Start with the community around you—you don’t have to change the world—baby steps. Look for the good in people around you, share it, take a few minutes everyday to look and see the beauty in people because if we all stopped and cared about the people around us, how wonderful would the world be? VR opens opportunity, experience, and imagination like never before—embrace it, be entertained by it, and engage within the community.

Creator: Judy Katz
World: Judy’s Skating Rink

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Judy Katz: I would describe this world as a safe hangout for those who want to have a party. Lots of diverse, attachable legs for skating. The skating rink was an idea to bring back safe childhood memories where everyone got along and skated to their favorite songs.

What inspired you to create this world?

JK: I spent most of my weekends growing up at the skating rink. The rink was also the number one place to go as a child for birthday parties.

Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

JK: The world was built in the original building layout in my hometown. It has been altered over the years with remodels, but this is as original as I could get it.

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

JK: I always start out by asking myself basic questions. Who will visit the world? What genre? How big or small? How much detail am I willing to put into it? I then draw a map of where everything should go, then I walk away and come back after an hour to view from a different perspective. Then it is down to getting reference photos.

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

JK: As I learn animation and scripting I will hope to update it at a later date.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

JK: Women’s History Month means the ability to feel special for all the hard work done throughout the year. A time of recognition.

If you could hang out with one woman, past or present, fiction or non-fiction, in Horizon, who would it be and why?

JK: Fictional for sure, Wanda from WandaVision. She would do anything for her love and family.

What role does VR have to play in uplifting underrepresented voices?

JK: A greater chance to tell a story that others can understand.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

JK: Don’t be afraid to be creative, don’t be discouraged, and don’t ever stop.

Creator: Paige Dansinger
World: Purple Flower Survivors

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Paige Dansinger: Purple Flowers Survivors is a safe-space or empathetic environment for people impacted by domestic abuse. A community-created response to support a Horizon member in crisis, Purple Flower Survivors provided an opportunity for proving the power of social world-building is critical in building community resilience.

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

PD: Purple Flower Survivors was the first VR empathy-experience I directed at Better World Museum (2016). My team of artists used drawings of purple flowers from 65 survivors (including myself) from the Minneapolis Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) to create a VR 360° video. We used Unity, YouTube, and an iPad drawing program I helped design.

It was the catalyst for Better World Museum’s VR Garden, our first VR project using an Oculus headset (2017). I shared a link with a VR flower I drew on Facebook, inviting anyone to contribute. Many people participated, and it led to the formation of real-world relationships. It was presented at TEDx Minneapolis, Nobel Peace Prize Forum, AWE, the Facebook Global Safety and Wellness Summit, and led to a team project at the MIT Reality Hackathon. During the Facebook Community Leadership Program (2018-19), VR Garden became a PopUp Museum drawing experience that traveled to Shenzhen, Beijing, San Francisco, and Miami. Today, over 4,000 people have contributed to VR Garden.

The story of Purple Flower Survivors in Facebook Horizon makes a full-circle of my VR and personal healing journey. Once I was vulnerable, powerless, and isolated. However, I found my power and resilience by creating strong on/offline communities with Facebook Groups and Facebook Horizon, which allows me to impact more people today as a community manager.

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

PD: Psychologist Bessel van der Kolk suggests that some trauma imprints where language cannot reach. Creative activity such as world-building in Facebook Horizon may play a role in dislodging trauma from the body and brain. When a Horizon friend was in crisis in her real world, I suggested hopping-in to create a new world... a world where we could meet to talk and feel safer.

Quickly, I used the Snap tool to make a level-ground for a foundation with a stretched and flattened primary shape. A tube shape became the perimeter, like a circle of protection around her, and symbolized setting new boundaries. I listened to her story as I created some flowers to give her to hold onto and quickly made a hot spring for her to ritually renew herself (like a mikvah for Jewish women). Before leaving, she created a beautiful purple flower that I duplicated all over the world.

Horizon is for community building; the next step was demonstrating that she was not alone. One in four identifying women in the United States is a victim of domestic abuse during their lifetime. Once again, I shared a link on Facebook inviting anyone in Horizon to create a purple flower to import into the world—I saw an overwhelming amount of participation from community group members (including men and non-binary creators). What happened next was unexpected. Horizon community members had a MeetUp there to create a support network for her in the real world. Connection, community, and presence were what I needed in crisis before the existence of Facebook; with these helpful digital tools, I knew what to do.

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

PD: Purple Flower’s capacity is now full. However, until there is no domestic or intimate partner violence, there will sadly be a need for safe-spaces. If in need, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799- SAFE (7233). After, please make a purple flower and add @betterworldmuseum as a collaborator to import. I will optimize or make a new world and add a door until there is no further need.

I make other gardens in Horizon too, Roots & Herbs Garden Path is a hub that leads to a 10+ world-hop garden road-trip adventure inspired by a biodynamic farm in Northern New Mexico. Highlights include Wild Strawberry Patch, Medicinal Herb Garden, and Black Rock Hot Springs. Today I published MANNA Garden One, a futurist edible garden in outer space. It demonstrates ways to grow food for people facing climate impacts and food injustice. Also, I’m currently working on Irises, a Match Game from Van Gogh Gallery Games, an eight-world museum adventure with challenges, tokens, and rewards.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

PD: Women’s History Month marks the first anniversary of starting my favorite project, Horizon Art Museum—an ever-expanding museum with recreated works from museum collections (under fair use), an evolution of MuseumDraw, a digital engagement activity that catapulted my museum career before VR. Last Women’s History Month was the inspiration for the museum, and the inaugural exhibit Women Artists forms our core collection on view. We have celebrated this month by participating in the annual campaign #5WomenArtists by the National Museum for Women in the Arts.

This year marked a new opportunity to celebrate because there are more women in the beta program. A new Facebook group Women in Horizon, which I co-admin with Navah Berg (NavahK), hosted an all-day social event in our community world in Horizon. Interviews with women, meditation, icebreakers, and an evening Women Creators World-Hops made our community come together. Our group celebrates new women, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC community creators, provides a social network, How-To building sessions, monthly MeetUps, and inclusive public programs. I’m already excited for next year!

If you could hang out with one woman, past or present, fiction or non-fiction, in Horizon, who would it be and why?

PD: Greta Thunberg is one person I would love to collaborate with on a Climate Garden World. Her presence in Horizon could potentially spark mass-global adoption, live audience engagement, and participation from young people who want to help make a better world. It may influence more professionals, industries, and institutions to understand Horizon as a perfect social solution to lessen climate impacts for travel, meetings, events, museums, and more industries. If I could spend one hour world-building with Greta in Horizon to show her what an effective tool it may be for purpose-driven movements, I believe it could help build a better world.

What role does VR have to play in uplifting underrepresented voices?

PD: There are many fantastic examples in the VR community of how VR may uplift underrepresented voices. Diverse leadership is critical for ethical, unbiased, and empathetic VR culture. Horizon is an effective tool for uplifting underrepresented voices. Although the identities of Purple Flower collaborators are private, the person Purple Flower Survivors was created for says, “Horizon helped save me, by giving me the strength to break the silence.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Please join our new Facebook Group, Women in Horizon. Professionally, I’m welcoming commissions to build worlds for cultural organizations, institutions, and community groups. I’m also excited to be presenting next month at the annual Museums and Web Conference four times from inside Horizon!

Creator: Megan Thompson
World: Planet Quiz

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Megan Thompson: I made this world as my first venture into scripting and creating a game instead of just an environment. I wanted to make something both fun and educational that was also nice to just look at. I love the solar system and all things celestial, so I found it relaxing to just hang out there. If you spend a few minutes just taking in your surroundings, you can see a few neat little effects in the sky!

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

MT: I wanted to make an interactive experience, and I love space. One of my favorite places to go is a planetarium. I can remember in grade school when they would bring in the inflatable one and set it up in the gym, I loved just lying in there looking at the stars. This world takes me back to that experience.

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

MT: I knew I wanted the revolving planets, and this was a very early world of mine. So initially I started it in a very complicated way, but fortunately, a dev came in to check it out and offered some advice that made things much easier as well as made my rotation super smooth. I built the world alone, but I did take helpful advice regarding the scripting and such. I would say that it came together over the course of a couple of days.

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

MT: Eventually, I would love to redo this world using the skills I have learned since initially building it. I feel like many aspects would be greatly improved now that I am more experienced. Overall I am still pretty happy with the build though.

What does Women's History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

MT: Women’s History Month is incredibly important to me. I feel like women are presented with so many greater opportunities in this current age, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. I started getting into tech and gaming at an early age. I went through a lot of unpleasant experiences with stereotypes, and it’s nice to see things turning around. I love that women are getting their time in the spotlight in an area that has been so mainly male-dominated. I am absolutely honored to be a part of this VR celebration with some extremely talented women!

If you could hang out with one woman, past or present, fiction or non-fiction, in Horizon, who would it be and why?

MT: Ariadne from the movie Inception. I always loved her strong and confident presence in a male-dominated field, and I admired her creativity. She was so open to just jumping straight into a whole new world that she had never experienced before and began to build without hesitation. It inspires me to be confident in my own creations.

What role does VR have to play in uplifting underrepresented voices?

MT: I feel that VR is going to play a very important part in representation. It allows people access to worlds and experiences that they may not otherwise ever get to be a part of. Personally, as a woman living in a rural area, it has given me a fantastic platform to network with individuals I otherwise never would have met and receive opportunities that would rarely be available in this area.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MT: Again I am just very honored to be included in this. I am so excited to see what the future holds for VR, but particularly for women who are finding their voices, maybe for the first time. I think this is something that could open up entire new worlds for many people!

Thanks to Ruth Diaz, Navah Berg, Judy Katz, Paige Dansinger, and Megan Thompson for sharing their stories and participating in Horizon’s Women’s History Month celebration. We can’t wait to see what you build next.

We’ll continue to showcase creators from the Horizon community, so stay tuned to the blog for future updates.