Haunting a House: Drexel’s VR Experts Help to Raise the Dead at Philly’s Newest Halloween Attraction

This month people who love getting scared will have another option for getting their frights in Philadelphia. With some help from researchers and students in Westphal College’s Immersive Research Lab, renowned performance art and dance producer Brian Sanders has created a haunted house that lets visitors choose their own spooky adventures.

The attraction, called 2nd Sanctuary, will run Thursdays through Sundays until Nov. 3. It features a haunted maze, an escape room, a zombie bar, a dance performance and a number of immersive, virtual reality experiences.

JUNK_BTS_prod_0204Sanders tapped Nick Jushchyshyn, an assistant professor in Westphal College and director of the Immersive Research Lab, and his students to help them build a performance meant to be experienced in virtual and immersive reality.

The group produced four unique virtual reality experiences for 2nd Sanctuary. In one, students from the IRL worked with performers from Sanders’ troupe, JUNK, to record dance movements in Drexel’s motion capture studio that would provide the framework for the virtual reality phantoms at a 1970s disco prom.


For the other three, Sanders challenged the group to build a variety of camera rigs for on-location virtual reality shoots across the city to create his “Phantom Portal VR Telecom Tour” — an immersive virtual reality experience set in the 1970s that allows people to teleport around the city via phone both. The virtual reality shoots included simulating a flying phone booth with a forklift, pushing a hospital gurney through the streets and subway tunnels of Philadelphia and turning iconic places like the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park and City Hall into portals into virtual reality.


“This is very much a cutting-edge performance in terms of incorporating this technology,” Jushchyshyn said. “You’re starting to see some Broadway productions incorporate VR cameras on stage to provide an enhanced experience as part of their marketing. But this is one of very few performances that is designed to be experienced in VR as part of the live performance. This was built around what could be done with VR in an immersive and participatory experience, and Brian really explored new and different ways to incorporate the technology. This is really the tip of the spear for this type of performance.”


In addition to the IRL’s contribution, students in Westphal’s Art Administration program also helped to research virtual reality in the arts to guide marketing and promotion efforts for the attraction.

“This was a fantastic experience for the students to work alongside a visionary like Brian Sanders,” Jushchyshyn said. “This project went well beyond just working to deadlines in a professional setting but truly challenged them, creatively and technically, to create an extraordinarily unique immersive experience that visitors are sure to enjoy.”

JUNK_BTS_prod_0047Drexel’s virtual, augmented and immersive reality experts are becoming known for their collaborations throughout the city. Last year students from the program helped design a virtual reality lounge at the post-apocalyptic-themed restaurant Mad Rex, they used virtual reality to help patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia animate their short stories and even brought a dinosaur to life in VR at the Academy of Natural Sciences.


For more information about 2nd Sanctuary, visit: https://www.briansandersjunk.com/2ndsanctuary

 For media inquiries, contact Britt Faulstick, bef29@drexel.edu or 215-895-2617.