Where technology meets creativity

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I went to the theatre – but with a difference. The reason for the visit was not the short, one-off performance itself, but the fact that it was part of a research experiment which is seeking to capture the experience of watching live theatre and extend it to the world of the digital consumer audience.

The performance at the Bristol Old Vic was a short piece called Strange Case. Directed by Sally Cookson, it used speech, music and dance to explore the idea of human duality based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll story. As you would expect at the Old Vic, it was an excellent piece of theatre with superb acting.

But, as Executive Chair Dick Penny said to me, this was not so much about the content as about the experiment – the ‘extended theatre experience’. During the performance a range of fixed and wearable cameras were used, the outputs of which will be edited to create a related screen-based experience bringing the intimacy of live theatre to a digital audience in a novel way. This will be screened next week at the Watershed, with the findings of an audience survey then used to inform future product development.

The project received modest funding from the Technology Strategy Board as part of our collaborative R&D competition in the application of digital technologies, and is a collaboration between Bristol Old Vic, Watershed and Hewlett Packard with the Pervasive Media Studio. If successful it has the potential to create new business and entertainment opportunities, and could help in the process of establishing a more viable business model for small regional theatres like the Old Vic.

I hear mixed comments about the opportunities for the Technology Strategy Board to fund projects in the creative industries. Some would like to see more, while others question whether it is appropriate. We are certainly not the Arts Council and it is not our role - much as I would sometimes like to - to fund the Arts for Art’s sake. But I do believe there are significant business opportunities which can come out of this unique cross-over between arts and technology. Our high value manufacturing strategy, for example, includes a case study about the BBC i-View project, which aims to reconstruct a 3D model of the action in a football or rugby event in real-time, allowing the game to be reviewed from locations where it would be impossible to locate a camera . It uses complex algorithms to reconstruct images from input camera images.  The project is a collaboration between the BBC, Snell and Wilcox, Hawkeye and the University of Surrey. It is due for completion this year and has potential 3D gaming console applications as well as providing another solution to that vexed question – “did the ball cross the line?”

Another example is Visualise, a project which aims to provide an enhanced experience to spectators at events through local area access to a range of media via hand-held devices. Spectators who have often paid large sums of money to attend prestigious events often have little access to the wide coverage available to the viewer at home. The project has developed video compression and streaming techniques that work effectively with low cost wireless broadband networks and allows spectators to experience a wide range of things going on at an event whilst experiencing the unique excitement of being there.

These examples do bring technology and the arts together in a way we didn’t think of just a few years ago. We are familiar with the antics of Wallace and Gromit but the simulation technologies of Aardman Animations are also being used in business simulations; major companies such as Hewlett Packard are already bringing technology together with social science and creative industries with new products such as the immersive telepresence service Halo; and technology projects such as the Centre for Fluid Mechanics Simulation (CFMS) are looking to bring the innovative thinking of design and creative industries into the complex analytical world of aerospace and automotive engineering.

It is clear to me that as the Technology Strategy Board we have to lead the way in providing the connections that bring these two worlds together. We recognised this when we set up a Knowledge Transfer Network in the creative industries and we have recognised it in several competitions we have run in the last 18 months.

In the context of building a ‘Digital Britain’ there is also a role for Government in helping to provide the infrastructure that will allow UK business to realise these opportunities.

I am in no doubt that here in the UK we are in a unique position to maximise the business opportunity that exists at this important cross-over of technology and the creative arts and we will continue to develop our thoughts, ideas and contributions in this area.

In the meantime I look forward to going along to the Watershed next Saturday to see the second stage of our experiment with Bristol Old Vic, Hewlett Packard and the Pervasive Media Studio, and have the “extended theatre experience” myself.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:34

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