We can build on this.

IMM at TCNJ Senior Show 2020

May 18, 2020 | 7:00 - 9:00 pm


Elaine Ruiz

Project Site


Elaine is an artist and animator who loves storytelling. She spent the first two years of her college career focusing on fine arts and photography before transitioning into interactive multimedia and animation. She joined TCNJ’s SIGGRAPH chapter shortly after and became an e-board member for the 2018-2019 school year. She is a member of TCNJ’s Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity on campus. Elaine attended SIGGRAPH 2019 as a student volunteer and CTNx 2019 to learn more about the animation industry, attending various panels and masterclasses. She uses everything she’s learned from these experiences in her projects. Elaine tends to create work that explores the beauty in the simplest things or issues that people and society may overlook.

Project Overview:

Trapped is a virtual reality storytelling experience based on true events about intimate partner violence (IPV). The story provides a glimpse into IPV to demonstrate what such relationships can look like, how they can escalate, and how they can affect the survivors long after they end. Using Quill and the Oculus Rift S, the environment changes corresponding to the events in the story to both reflect and emphasize how these situations feel to the victim.

What was the overarching problem or challenge and how did you solve it?

My biggest challenge was trying to paint, model, and animate in a new program, Quill, all within virtual reality. The Oculus Rift S is the best headset I’ve used for virtual reality, but I have my own physical limitations as to how long I can handle wearing it. I would need to take breaks every few hours, as spending a lot of time in the headset was dizzying. However, over time I slowly got used to the headset and was able to work for longer periods of time. Another challenge I had was attempting to write a story that would properly show what IPV can look like and how it affects its victims. As someone who has never attempted to write a story as long and as in-depth as this, I found this particularly challenging. I made sure to take my time with writing and research to cover as much as I could. Feedback was a very important part of the writing process to make sure I was on the right track.

Development process and tools

At first, I focused on collecting as many of the facts about this story as I could before I developed it further. Any specific details the survivor could remember were important. Upon further reflection, even early in the relationship there were signs and red flags of an abusive relationship. I worked with someone at my campus’s Anti-Violence Initiatives (AVI) to learn more about intimate partner violence, the way they typically work, and to what extremes. Following my research of IPV and the cycle that typically occurs, I found photos to use as reference for my paintings. Once the story was ready to be reviewed by others, I began working on painting the scenes in virtual reality using the Oculus Rift S and Quill. The goal is to create several scenes of forests to convey different moods, reflecting the stages in the cycle.

Personal inspiration/interest

I have always had an interest in art and animation, so finding a program that lets me create paintings and animations in virtual reality and 3D was incredibly appealing to me. Along with that, the issue of IPV is important to me and I have seen the destruction it can bring to people’s lives or the stigma that may come with it for survivors. I came up with this project to put together two topics I’m passionate about to help bring to light what can happen in these kinds of relationships, and how subtle or easily it can start before it progresses into bad situations. In order to avoid the stigma attached to staying in an abusive relationship, it’s important to educate others on how easily one can feel trapped in these situations.

How does this play into your professional/creative goals? What do you want to do with this, after this?

As an artist and animator, I was very interested in Quill because of its ability to make painting and animating easy in virtual reality. By using Quill alone, I am able to create and tell stories. It has also become a great tool to develop my ideas or even make full animations. While I have always considered a career in developing animations for movies or video games, I would even consider applying my animation skills to virtual reality projects more now that I have tried this. While the project is not yet fully complete like I had hoped, I intend on finishing it after graduation.

How is this work likely to impact the world beyond TCNJ?

Intimate partner violence is a common issue, from dating violence to longer cycles of domestic violence. It can happen to anyone. I believe this project can help people understand these situations more and how it can escalate to greater acts of violence if it continues long enough. The main character will navigate through the cycles of abuse and share how it affected her. After leaving the relationship, the reader will learn more about how she’s healing and reflections she’s made showing the early signs of abuse and how it could’ve escalated further had she stayed. Some misunderstand IPV and think abuse starts from the very beginning. In reality, it escalates slowly after enough trust is created, pushing a person’s boundaries more and more. Because of this, there can be a stigma surrounding survivors about why they chose to stay for as long as they did in these relationships. While I hope others understand survivors a bit more from this, I want people to learn about some signs to look out for early in relationships to avoid bigger issues later.

Biggest challenge/hurdle you overcame and how?

The biggest challenge for me was writing this very personal story in such an intimate and raw way. There were many occasions where writing it felt like too much for me mentally and emotionally. Still, I did my best to push through to complete the story to the best of my ability because I had hope it would help bring awareness to the topic or help another person who may have been in a similar situation. Some have expressed to me that this project brought more awareness to the topic or reminded them of similar situations they or loved ones were involved in. Some even noticed early signs of IPV in their situations but left before it could escalate further. Hearing these stories inspired me to keep telling this story as best as I could, knowing it could help someone else out in that way. It was a balancing act at times between getting the work done without letting my emotions get in the way and being sure I didn’t push myself too far and lose productivity. Thankfully, as time went on and with the help of others, I gave myself the time to work on the story properly and look out for my own mental health.

How you adapted to COVID situation?

There definitely were some challenges in terms of my workflow and how I would get back on track with my project. Thankfully from previous experience, I knew what I needed to work on with my personal challenges in order to be productive. Once classes switched to online courses, I worked out a plan for what would change with my project. At the time, the story was 90% done and I had to focus on the virtual reality component fully. Without the showcase event on campus, I couldn’t exactly have others try out the experience as I intended, so I transitioned to video. Originally, I planned to develop just one scene that many expressed interest in to experience in virtual reality, but I ultimately decided to create a trailer for what I intend the final product to look like when I finish. It has previews from the different stages of the “typical” cycle of abuse and how the main character feels in those situations.

Did you collaborate with others? How?

There were many others who helped me behind the scenes to put this project together. While I was in the process of developing my idea, I spoke with several people in my department and even at conferences I attended to gather opinions on my concept. For about a year, I worked with someone at my campus’s AVI every week to help understand IPV more to be able to create this project. The story is based on true events from someone in my life, so I made sure to work closely with them to write it. Throughout the writing process, I would get input from peers about what they thought about the story and how it affected them. Overall, it was this kind of support I received from my professors, peers, alumni, and friends that helped me put together this project. No matter the scale of how much each individual helped out, I appreciate all of it.