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CAKE Mix 26: Innovation in Content & Media

Our 26th Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) event took place in the brand-new building of PROTO – Europe’s first dedicated centre for emerging technology. Our speakers shared their experiences and explored the theme of “Innovation in Content and Media”. PROTO hosts an R&D space established by Digital Catapult Centre North East Tees Valley (NETV) which offers companies support and access to innovative software across Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). The Immersive Lab (one of only four in the UK) puts the importance of new tools and specialised kit at the forefront of real-life applications being an opportunity for businesses to explore, use and apply immersive technology.

The event was held in association with Northern Film and Media (NFM) who highlighted the opportunities for attracting and nurturing talent in the region and the importance of strengthening relationships.

CAKE Mix is your chance to catch up with CAKE as it unfolded via the live-tweeted #FuseCAKE bulletins from the event.

Alison Gwynn (Head of Marketing and Commercial Development at Northern Film + Media) introduced the event and explained the mission of NFM; being North East England’s creative industries development agency, NFM aims to provide support to media creatives and industries, driving the growth of film makers and producers in the region, as well as attracting investment by promoting the region as a base for incoming film and TV production.

Focussing on NFM’s strategic development, Alison stressed that North East has relevant skills, talent and opportunities to get to the market, given the fast-paced growth of the sector. A considerable variety of emerging opportunities presents the challenge of taking and exploiting the pool of resources and creativity within the sector. Reflecting on how the North East can do better, NFM recognise the need to attract more production, as well as to create and nurture talent in the Universities encouraging young people to stay in our region.

Samm Haillay (Producer for Third Films and Senior Lecturer in Film Production at Teesside University) then discussed his work with Third Films and how they have explored class issues and marginalised characters, taking into consideration a discourse embracing gender equality within an industry which is still patriarchal.

Samm’s most recent film ‘Island of the Hungry Ghosts’ was awarded as Best Documentary at Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018. Being located at the Australian territory of Christmas Island, the documentary sees half of the characters as females, taking reflections on the natural migration and the chaotic and tragic migration of the humans.

Samm raised the issue of gender inequity in the sector and how this can only be tackled by action, producers like him ensuring a gender a balance wherever possible. This generated a lively discussion with no easy answers.

Our second speaker was Marc De Launay, Executive Producer at Arcus Animation Studios and Business Executive Director at SockMonkey Games Studios. Based at the Northern Design Centre, Arcus Studios has become the largest and leading 2D specialist animation studio in the UK north of Manchester and it works with clients such as CBBC, BBC Education and MacMillan International Publishing. Marc spoke about his broad experience; as freelance running his company ‘MMG – Mandragora Media Group’, Marc’s work involves an open approach to digital set innovation and mentor consultant for commercialisation of innovation in Glasgow with the licensing centre of invention.

Outlining some of the top entertainment innovation trends for the 21st century, Marc claimed that new digital technologies are reshaping the economics, production, distribution, and marketing of the entertainment industry. While traditional media enterprises must learn to adapt to new and innovative technologies to maintain competitiveness, the convergence of the Internet with TV, phones and other wireless devices has created many new media channels. This is transforming our experience of entertainment.

The topic about innovation always generates debates and different perspectives. Marc argued that innovation is easy to define but difficult to do presenting the likely barriers to innovation in content and media, highlighting that most of them are related to consumption and distribution.

Marc stressed the importance of audience experience and story content stating that there is risk this is lost through new technologies like VR and AR.  Innovative business models should address this – “we are humans so we need to tell stories and this is how we exist”.

Next up, joining us at PROTO was Jenny Lang giving an insight into activities and facilities of Digital Catapult NETV, such as the Immersive Lab – an R&D space that provides businesses with access to specialised equipment. Working along with SMEs and companies both in the creative and manufacturing industry, the main goals of Immersive Labs are to educate the market about the general use and applications of immersive technologies, such as VR, AR and MR making the clients reflect on what they want to achieve.

As Programme Engagement Manager at Sunderland Software City, Jenny explained how recent projects at Digital Catapult NETV include explorations of cultural heritage in virtual reality contexts. Particularly, Jane explained the project ‘Reality Zero One’ made with Northumberland National Park and how photogrammetry has been used to create digital objects of artefacts to capture Iron Age pottery – this item is on display (digitally) at the Sill: National Discovery Centre.

The mission of Reality Zero One is to create a solution and take it to the market by building tools that make getting real things into VR/AR/MR & 3D a joyful experience by reducing the time and cost this process usually requires. Reality Zero One’s application should become a cohort in its ‘Augmentor Programme’, through which Digital Catapult is able to discover businesses with the most commercially viable solutions and provide them with the skills to approach investors.

An interesting and lively session of Q&A followed the event producing illuminating ideas about the role that AR and VR can play not only in the creative sector, but also how their potential can be applied and exploited in the health sector.

For example, Marc de Launay is conducting a project with SockMonkey Games Studios working with NHS and the Hospital James Cook. Regarding this, Marc pointed out that the biggest obstacle of boosting innovation within the health sector are longer time of development. However, benefits from animation are visible in realisation of workshops that include teaching packages to use VR and AR with surgery to create 3D images.

Similarly, the Immersive Lab NETV’s team are looking to use 3D images for physiotherapy and 3D systems for children.

Whether the location of North East does actually matter generated a delicate and thought-provoking discussion – here, the biggest challenge in the industry is in getting people involved and working in the region rather than creating compelling content. Alison stressed NFM’s attempts and commitment to give regional voice and diversity, as there are numerous job opportunities, particularly in the post-production, while interesting aspects are linked with social innovation and a relevant female presence in the sector.

Thus, challenges in the North East consist in creating opportunities, given a fast-paced working environment in multiple areas that include commercial applications and entertainment.

We were really excited that PROTO was home to the event, as our speakers discussed about themes of innovation in content and media. This brought authenticity to the topic and it was a great opportunity for our attendees to visit the Immersive Lab.

Our final networking time saved for attendees to enjoy a delicious slice of cake – the best thing we could ask to recover from the cold and rainy day.

Next CAKE Event

Join us next time for CAKE 27: Christmas CAKE – we will celebrate all what have been “Fused” over the last 12 months. We will be welcoming businesses, freelancers, creative practitioners to share their achievements and results obtained through innovation pilot projects and ERDF activities. This will also be a chance to wish you all the best for the New Year…cake and wine will be provided!

Wednesday 12th December, Breeze Creatives, Bamburgh House – Newcastle City Centre