Built from the DNA of multiple real world cities, the Rilao Project is a vast fictional world initiated and developed by the USC World Building Media Lab and world building classes at USC Cinematic Arts, Media Arts and Practice.

It is an expanding collective endeavor of experts, faculty and world building students from universities in Los Angeles, Rio, London, Rotterdam, Dessau and Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto. Rilao is a fictional city that is meant to function as a narrative laboratory for the future, building organically from defined rule sets and massive collaboration. While Rilao has the conditions and elements of a real city, its fictional status allows us to imagine possibilities that aren’t governed by city planning, political constraints, etc. It is a space that dares cities, institutions and industries more broadly, to dream.

The project is a series of media narratives that chronicles the culture, history, technology and landscape of Rilao. These pieces use platforms as different as the Oculus Rift, multiple channel video, Unity games, kinetic body-scale architecture, immersive sound installation, physical artifacts, photography and web-based graphic design and storytelling. The Rilao project also involves developing and mapping the city of Rilao around these projects, employing narrative design, video mock-ups and 3D modeling in Unity and Houdini to bring the city to life. Produced by students in the Interactive Media and Game Design, Production, and Media Arts and Practice divisions of the Cinema School, this persistent work extends across multiple semesters in parallel to practice-based research in the world Building Media Lab. The Rilao Project will be publicly exhibited during the week of October 20, 2014, for the Science of Fiction Festival at the School of Cinematic Arts.

Rilao is a city spread across many islands, in an atoll that is part of a remote and hidden archipelago that for close to one hundred years has been kept in isolation. This trope allows us to imagine an alternative trajectory of social, political and technological development, built around a culture of DIY prototyping, smart materials used to terraform new living surfaces, expressive personal robotics and procedural architecture. Rilao examines the possibilities and anxieties of an increasingly artificial environment by exploring the cultural innovations necessary to create a livable space in a fluid and mobile place.

The Rilao Project is led by Professors Alex McDowell RDI, Ann Pendleton-Jullian, and Holly Willis, with PhD student Lauren Fenton and research associate Bradley Newman.


Brandon Cahoon – Concept Artist and Narrative Designer
Chris Cain – Lead Programmer and 3D Modeler
Mischa Cantu – Filmmaker, Narrative Designer
Christian Falstrup – Assistant Programmer and 3D Modeler
Lauren Fenton – Producer/Director
Eric Adrian Marshall – Narrative Designer, Filmmaker, Cartographer
Joshua McVeigh-Schultz – Narrative Designer
Evangelos Pantazis – Architect, Game Designer/Programmer

Project Partners

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