Today’s blog post, written by Dr Richard Southern, introduces one of our new strategic research growth clusters, which is building on BU’s existing excellence in computer animation to forward research in the pioneering field of virtual production:
This 3-year project establishes a Multi-Disciplinary Cluster of Excellence for Research in Virtual Production to develop the game-changing idea of Remote Production through strategic investment, enabling research to widen access, enhance sustainability, and explore applications, reducing barriers to entry and putting visual content creation in the hands of a wider range of storytellers and innovators.
Virtual Production (VP) defines a set of new production practices where practitioners work in and interact directly with a virtual set. VP reduces the need to move crews and equipment to location and enables remote working in VR, reducing CVD-19 risks, the environmental footprint, slashes production costs and upends the traditional production process by blurring the lines between production departments.
Evidence of sustainability of VP practices is already emerging studios and technology providers:
- Reducing Emissions: Transportation, travel, location accounts for 16% of film CO2 emissions, and it has been reported that VP has been shown to lead to at least a 20% reduction in travel. Garden Studios were able to demonstrate that VP could be used to create the first net carbon neutral production.
- Increased productivity: ILM reported a 50+% increase in pages shot and more broadly a 5-20% reduction in reshoot costs has been reported. For NightFlyers, a 73% reduction in post-production costs compared with Green Screen equivalent was reported.
- Promoting reuse: 52% of set materials (lumber, steel and glass) was reused on Amazing Spiderman 2, while there is a large and as yet unquantified potential for LED screens, virtual assets to be reused between productions.
The logical next step in is to transition production in film, TV and broadcast media practices from those that are mainly facilities-bound to working environments that are remotely collaborative and thereby making the practices more sustainable. Examples of new technologies in this are virtual cinematography and VR puppeteering.
Virtual Production reframes games, virtual reality, and computer graphics technology in the context of production practice, allowing us to leverage our existing excellence and industry expertise in a booming sector. A myriad of applications stem from this including sustainable production, immersive storytelling, networking, ethics, digital heritage, collaborative visualisation and military, which broadens opportunities for collaboration across the wider the University. This project applies and develops research into areas for which BU is recognised internationally:
- Applied research in image processing techniques to correct footage, scene understanding and photogrammetry to accelerate the creation of virtual sets from real environments and virtual reality and interaction to better streamline interactions between real and virtual spaces.
- Nationally recognised expertise in sustainability in film and TV production. While Virtual Production practices have been shown to boost productivity by as much as 50%, the impact of emerging production practices on sustainability has not yet been fully quantified.
- New applications of this nascent technology, applying extended reality (XR) principles in areas of existing institutional research and expertise in cultural heritage, digital art, performance art and immersive storytelling.
This project focuses BU’s existing research portfolio, supports ECRs and develops new research aligned with the identified themes to establish BU as a key partner in future industry and academic collaboration. Existing institutional resources include:
- Thousands of students in complementary discipline areas who will collaborate and co-create content and undertake research with this technology, while entering the sector with a deep understanding of the sustainability implications of their practice.
- Multi-disciplinary and industry-relevant skills and knowledge base in film, VFX and games production directly relevant to Virtual Production.
- Current multi-million pound externally funded research projects aligned with applications in the Creative Industries (Centre for Digital Entertainment (EPSRC), Centre for Applied Creative Technologies (Horizon 2020), AniAge (Horizon 2020), VistaAR (Interreg)).
- Industry standard facilities, including film studios, VR labs, motion capture technology, strengthening our research capacity in enabling experimentation and validation of production ready research projects to delivery high impact research.
- Strong regional and national partnerships and alumni network in the Creative Industries.
- Members are represented on BFI Albert, the National Standards Working Group in Virtual Production, and the StudioUK Skills Group. The NCCA is an Unreal Academic Partner.
After 3 years we envisage a Centre of Excellence in Virtual Production to deliver:
- Impactful research outputs in virtual and remote production for enhancing productivity and sustainable working practices,
- Grant capture with industry collaborators to tackle industry-relevant challenges,
- A consortium of industry partners to advise activity in research, teaching and enterprise,
- World-class research-informed teaching in this highly sought-after discipline area,
- A demonstration facility showcasing our research and new technologies.
The Creative Industries contributes 6% of UK GVA, with estimated year on year growth estimated at 7.1%, and constituting 7% of global output in this sector. Global Virtual Production Market size is expected to reach £2.2b by 2026, rising at a rate of 14.3%. UK studios and core technology providers are global leaders in this space, leading to the Digital Catapult and Screenskills to identify this as a critical growth area. As of November 2020, there were 150 Virtual Production studios in the world, and 70 new sound stages have been designated for construction across the UK until 2023. This demonstrates strong commercial and UK government interest in leading advances in TV and film production, and has already attracted significant productions to move to the UK.
The Creative Industries have rapidly embraced this technology, and vendors and studios are moving swiftly to meet this new demand. Commercial R&D ranges from the cameras, tracking and LED walls to the software needed to drive the displays. Production companies are actively investing in R&D to gain competitive advantages, such as Mo-Sys Star Tracker, ILM’s Stagecraft and Bournemouth-based Tree House Digital’s custom drive train for filming vehicles.
Bournemouth has been classified as a high growth area in the Creative Industries, fuelled by access to talent from local Universities and geographic advantages. BU has ranked in the bottom 30% in terms of local growth and regeneration, and bottom 50% of working with business in the recent KEF exercise, presenting an opportunity for significant impact through regional growth.
This proposal seeks to address internal and external priorities: sustainability in the creative industries is an identified priority of BU, BFI and the Creative Industry Pact; production costs and finance are identified as one of the four key challenges facing the sector; innovative immersive applications are a UKRI priority; and post-pandemic business and production models are critical research questions currently facing the immersive technologies, particularly virtual production.