The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) offers a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences. A multidisciplinary research institute affiliated with the University of Southern California, the ICT was established in 1999 to combine leading academic researchers in computing with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry. Having grown to encompass a total of 170 faculty, staff, and students in a diverse array of fields, the ICT represents a unique interdisciplinary community brought together with a core unifying mission: advancing the state-of-the-art for creating virtual experiences so compelling that people will react as if they were real.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICT research, we welcome applications from students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications. Undergraduates will join a team of students, research staff, and faculty in one of several labs focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences. In addition to participating in seminars and social events, students will also prepare a final written report and present their projects to the rest of the institute at the end of summer research fair.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

For questions or additional information, please contact

Research Projects

When you apply, we will ask you to rank your top three interests from the research projects listed below. We encourage applicants to explore each mentor’s website to learn more about the individual research activities of each lab.

Studies of Interaction and Learning in Virtual Reality

Mentors: David Krum and Evan Suma
The ICT Mixed Reality Lab researches and develops the techniques and technologies needed for immersive virtual reality and mixed reality experiences. In 2012, the lab developed the FOV2GO, a low cost, smartphone based virtual reality display that presaged the development of Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and other new VR displays. The lab is currently researching new approaches to leveraging virtual reality for training by conducting research in learning, perception, and locomotion. With the guidance of the principal investigator, an REU student working on this project will develop a virtual reality environment, using Unity and C#, and design and run an experiment to explore a research question identified by the principal investigator. These research questions will focus on topics such as environmental context dependent memory, motor adaptation, proxemics, or locomotion in virtual environments.

Behavior Analytics and Machine Learning

Mentor: Stefan Scherer
Our research aims to automatically – using machine learning – characterize and analyze individuals’ nonverbal behavior in human communication, including facial expressions, prosody, and gestures. Overall, this vibrant research integrates the fields of psychology, machine learning, and pattern recognition, and emerges as an essential field of computer science and big data analytics. An REU student working on this project would help develop and evaluate novel machine learning approaches to analyze human behavior in one of ICT’s many virtual human interaction applications.

Generating Stories About Moving Shapes

Mentor: Andrew Gordon
The “Heider-Simmel Interactive Theater” project at ICT investigates perception, interpretation, and storytelling. We attempt to automatically generate stories about moving shapes (triangles and circles) by recognizing human actions in their motions, explaining these actions using a logical theory of human psychology, and crafting an English-language narrative from these interpretations. An REU student working on this project will focus their efforts on this 3rd component: generating English-language narratives from logic-based interpretations. Research activities could include designing linguistic templates, annotating training examples, and/or programming the generation algorithm

Automultiscopic Virtual Human

Mentor: Andrew Jones
The goal of this project is to optimize virtual human characters for 3D automultiscopic displays that can be viewed from any viewpoint without special glasses. An REU student will work to optimize hardware (projectors, splitters, graphics cards) for in-sync video display, and may help to integrate natural language processing with API and 3D video playback.

Modeling Human Motion and Behavior

Mentor: Ari Shapiro
The project seeks to better understand human movement and behavior for the purpose of modelling a virtual character in 3D. An REU student will research aspects of human behavior, movement, and interaction dynamics that are absent in current video game and simulation environments and design, model, and test such a model on a virtual character.

Developing Emotionally Intelligent Computers

Mentors: Jonathan Gratch
Emotions influence behavior in many social decision-making tasks. This project explores how emotional expressions shape social decisions in a variety of laboratory experimental games (e.g., social dilemmas, negotiations). The project’s aim is to develop predictive models that can infer human goals and intentions from their patterns of emotional display and use this in the design of “emotionally intelligent” systems. An REU student will be involved in the development of a networked game that allows people to interact with other people and simulated people, while capturing, synchronizing and analyzing player facial expressions.

Socially Intelligent Virtual Agents for Learning

Mentor: Ning Wang
The project aims to research how virtual agents’ appearance and socially intelligent behavior impact learning. In one area of our research, an REU student can work on a project that research how similarities between a virtual tutor (or virtual peer) and a real human student impact learning. The REU student will work with the Rapid Avatar Capture technology and a natural language processing researcher to create a virtual agent with appearance and speech similar to a particular human student, and design a study to research how such similarities impact learning. In another area of our research, an REU student can work on a project that studies how to translate charismatic leadership strategies into a virtual human, and how such behaviors impact learning. An REU student will identify behaviors associated with charismatic leadership strategies (e.g. the use of metaphors, stories, gestures, facial expressions and animated voice, etc.) and implement some of these strategies in ICT’s Virtual Humans. The REU student will design a study on how the charismatic leadership strategies are perceived when they are employed by a virtual human, and how a charismatic virtual human impacts student motivation and understanding of learning material.


Natural Language Dialogue Processing for Virtual Humans

Mentor: David Traum
ICT is developing artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to allow virtual humans to engage in spoken and face to face interactions with people for a variety of purposes, including training of conversational tasks with virtual role-players. An REU student will work on extending or evaluating virtual humans in one or more activities. One example project is Information extraction. The purpose of this project is to allow a virtual character to “read” information from an internet source (e.g. webpage or newsfeed) and be able to talk about it in natural language with people. The information could come from structured information APIs (semantic web) or textual sources (or a combination). This information will be related to an ontology and knowledge base to allow the character to engage in social chat with people about this information. Topics could include elements like the weather, sports, current events, etc. An REU student will work with project members to identify a set of topics, internet resources for information on those topics, and methods that people talk about the topics (from corpora of human dialogue). The student will then write or adapt web-scrapers to acquire information from the identified resources, and add to the character’s knowledge base, understanding and language generation abilities.

Location and Housing
The ICT facility is located in the Playa Vista community of West Los Angeles, about 10 miles west of the main USC campus, and includes a 150-seat theater, game room, and gym. There are numerous restaurants and stores within walking distance, including the Westfield Culver City mall, and the beach is only a 10 minute drive away. The university also provides free shuttle service between the institute and the downtown USC campus.

Since ICT is located in its own separate facility, summer students typically live in apartments near the institute rather than on-campus dorms. We will direct accepted students to a number of resources for locating nearby housing and provide a stipend to support the cost of living.


  • Participate in a unique multidisciplinary community that combines academic research with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry.
  • Work with some of the leading researchers in human-computer interaction, computer graphics, and virtual humans.
  • Receive a total of $5000 over the ten week program, paid as monthly stipends (at end of each month).
  • Receive an additional $2800 stipend for housing and living expenses.
  • Travel will be reimbursed up to $600 for students living 95 miles or more outside of the Los Angeles area.


  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required.
  • Students must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Students must not have completed an undergraduate degree prior to the summer program.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline: March 7, 2015 (Extended)
  • Notification of acceptance begins: March 13, 2015
  • Notification of declined applicants: March 31, 2015


  • Start Date: June 2, 2015
  • End Date: August 7, 2015


How to Apply

The application period for summer 2015 has now closed.