Time Inc.’s VR Guru Is Forging a New Path Through Immersive Storytelling

Mia Tramz creates groundbreaking content

In her role as managing editor, Life VR, Tramz produces original VR content across Time Inc. brands.
Javier Sirvent for TIME

Long before she became the resident VR expert at one of the country’s top publishers, Mia Tramz was finding low-tech ways to create immersive experiences. While participating in a sculpture installation as a visual arts student at Columbia University, “I made a sculpture with mirrored fragments on it that you’d lay under with somebody else, and you’d hold hands and listen to a song and look at these twinkly mirror lights above—it was so weird!” she recalled. “But it was sort of like VR. It was about putting yourself into something.”

Several years after graduating, Tramz joined Time as a photo editor, and soon found herself pushing the boundaries of what digital multimedia had to offer, taking on projects like Time’s first underwater 360 video. In the process, Tramz had to use—and, in some cases, invent— brand-new technology.

Those efforts caught the attention of the executives leading Time Inc.’s video team, who were launching a new company-wide virtual reality initiative called Life VR. Tramz was a natural fit to lead the unit. In her new role, she’s worked on ambitious projects ranging from a mindfulness program that’s now being used to help patients in a children’s hospital to a room-scale experience commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which lets viewers explore an archetypal 1940s home (complete with copies of Time and Life to flip through) and even visit the harbor itself.

Creating that kind of content has involved a steep learning curve. “I’ve gotten very comfortable with knowing what I don’t know and asking the questions that I’m most embarrassed to ask,” Tramz said. “But even if you’ve done a ton of research, once you get into production, you always face stuff that you never could have anticipated. I’ve learned big, scary lessons with almost everything we undertake.”

Of course, there’s also the challenge of getting people onboard with VR in the first place. Whether she’s dealing with colleagues within Time Inc., potential advertising partners or consumers, “It’s hard to sell VR just by talking about it, so I always start these conversations with a demo,” she explained. “Once you get into a room-scale experience and you can walk around in an environment and pick things up, it’s really hard to say no.”

Curriculum Vitae
Managing editor, Life VR
2016 – present
Develops and produces original VR content across Time Inc. brands.

Senior multimedia editor/associate photo editor, Time
2013 – 2016
Joined Time as a digital photo editor; expanded to multimedia projects.

Assistant director, House of Exposure
2011 – 2013
Worked on website development, social media, graphic design and customer service for ecommerce startup.

How She Got The Job
When Life VR launched, the Time Inc. brands were asked for content ideas. “I came up with a list that was about 10 pages long,” recalled Tramz. “[The team overseeing Life VR] called me in and said, ‘So we got this thing approved, but none of us have time to run it. You seem to know a lot about VR—do you want to run it?’”

‘How Can I Help You?’
While working for a small ecommerce startup, Tramz found herself overseeing customer service. “I think so many more steps ahead now because of that,” she said. “You realize, ‘If I don’t take care of these things, someone is going to complain and I’ll have to deal with it later.’”

This story first appeared in the May 1, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.