• Staff writer

StoryFutures making history in immersive markets of tomorrow

The immersive market is promising to be big business. StoryFutures is leading the way in innovation and skills for immersive storytelling

PriceWaterhouse Coopers predicts that it will add £1.39 trillion ($1.82tn) to the global economy, while IDC forecasts that worldwide spending will reach £130 billion ($170.4bn) in 2023. The UK has a strong share of this market at around 9%, with more than 1,250 specialist immersive companies and 500 immersive technology projects since 2018. StoryFutures launched in October 2018 as part of the UK Government’s £80 million ($104.8m) investment to support innovation in creative industries. Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and Co-Director of StoryFutures Academy at Royal Holloway, University of London, agrees it is an exciting time for collaboration as organizations look at new ways to meet growing consumer demand for immersive experiences. “The technologies for immersive are at an amazing point,” says Professor Bennett. “We’re mixing virtual and real worlds together increasingly seamlessly. “What we need now is compelling content that can light up audiences’ worlds in new ways – this is our focus. “We’re here to help creative industries help make virtual reality a reality for audiences in ways that fire their imagination, take them to new worlds and rediscover their own environment.” StoryFutures Academy helps the screen sectors build the skills base and unlock research expertise for creativity and growth in virtual, augmented and mixed reality storytelling. This in turn is making the UK a world leader in the immersive economy. Professor Bennett continues: “The UK doesn’t make much hardware but it is one of the world’s best at making content. We are great storytellers and brilliant at making a business out of it. “Generating new IP for our creative industries to exploit in these new landscapes will make the UK a world leader. “We have access to some of the world’s best-known talent and storytelling brands, helping them experiment and de-risk their adventures into immersive. “We invest in innovative commercially focused productions, train talent to become content creators of the future, and deliver unique research insights on immersive story forms, audience behaviors, business models and technologies.” StoryFutures Academy is key to growing these skills and talent base in immersive. It is the National Centre For Immersive Storytelling, providing cutting-edge creative training and research programs to ensure the UK creative workforce is the most skilled in the world in immersive storytelling. It is run by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and Royal Holloway, University of London, and funded as part of UK Research and Innovation’s £33m ($43.25m) investment in the Audience of the Future Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Since launch, more than 300 professionals from across the creative industries have participated in immersive training programs. “We are investing over £500,000 ($655,287) in co-productions, such as collaborations with BBC Three and VR City’s award-winning Common Ground. We provide paid on-set training for senior professionals to work on high-profile immersive productions, including a Peaky Blinders VR experience,” says Professor Bennett. Their work has supported more than 100 jobs in the UK immersive sector and enabled companies to reach audiences in new ways. A series of Writers Rooms have been delivered in partnership with Punchdrunk, pioneers of immersive theatre, working with writers new to immersive storytelling. Recent work included a partnership with BBC Three. The StoryFutures Academy and six TV production companies and suppliers to BBC Three ran a co-production challenge to see how they could create innovative ways to engage 16-34 year olds using immersive technologies. The project has produced compelling new ideas for immersive experiences that fit with the BBC Three brand. “StoryFutures Academy is now co-producing BBC Three’s first immersive experience” explains Professor Bennett. “It is an exciting project that will play out later this year to engage young audiences in VR in a whole new way.” The Academy has also teamed up with Lucasfilm’s leading immersive entertainment studio ILMxLAB to run a nationwide creative review scheme for immersive content studios mentoring on immersive projects in development. Participants on the first year of immersive training labs have begun working on projects, including comedy producer Jon Aird and Oscar-winning VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin, who presented the immersive projects in development at the CreativeXR Marketplace, in partnership with the BFI London Film Festival. Professor Bennett says there is a key focus in the coming year for collaborators with both StoryFutures and the Academy: “We’ve just launched our Skills For Immersive Experience creation report that maps out how to build a pipeline of talent to feed this growing industry. Professor Bennett is also proud of the innovation work under way at StoryFutures Creative Cluster. “At StoryFutures, we are rolling out a series of ‘fellowships’ that span everything from ‘mental health and immersive’ through to ‘storytelling’ and ‘heritage’. This will enable companies to develop new propositions in collaboration with our research experts,” he says. It is an innovation program which helps create and test new creative ideas and experiences that use virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies to unlock sector growth. “We bring together leading organizations, creative innovators and academic experts to work together on groundbreaking productions, cuttingedge prototypes that subjugate current technology, and overcome challenges in audience, story form and technology.” Based in one of the UK’s top creative business areas, spanning London’s immediate west, the Cluster is led by Royal Holloway, University of London, with partners including Pinewood Studios, Immerse UK, BFI, Focal Point VR, Surround Vision, To Play For, The National Gallery, Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe, Heathrow Airport and many others. Since October 2018 they have engaged with more than 130 innovative companies and initiated more than 20 collaborations. Professor Bennett says: “We offer leading organizations an opportunity to work with cutting-edge immersive innovators and leading researchers to realize the benefits of immersive storytelling to serve their audiences or customers in new ways. “For example, we created and engaged visitors in The National Gallery’s first ever art virtual and augmented reality experience: Virtual Veronese. And we worked with Heathrow Airport to change passenger behaviour around coffee cup recycling, using engaging immersive experiences to increase recycling rates by 130% – recycling more than 6,000 coffee cups in just two bins over three weeks. “Our Research & Development program helps creative companies develop new ideas in collaboration with university experts, across multiple topics – from storytelling using artificial intelligence, to improving mental health to improving VR creation tools.”

If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch: StoryFutures: Innovation Opportunities StoryFutures Academy: Training and skills

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