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Multi-million investment in AI film and TV production to include Belfast studio

Published on 15 June 2023

A Belfast studio is set to be instrumental in developing the next generation of special effects beyond the virtual production already used in film and live events such as Abba Voyage and Disney’s The Mandalorian.

A Northern Ireland consortium led by Ulster University is among a network of UK labs securing £75.6m in government and £63m in industry funding to develop artificial intelligence (AI) and other tech solutions for the sector.

Aimed at future-proofing the UK’s film and TV production industry, the project will be based at Studio Ulster in Belfast Harbour Studios, now part of the largest virtual production research and development network in Europe.

Professor Declan Keeney, Ulster University, said: “We are thrilled to be joining the CoSTAR Network, for what will be a prestigious group of world-leading research labs in the exciting and transformative field of virtual and real-time production.

“This is a wonderful endorsement of our research leadership in the sector and our investment in the infrastructure needed to level up the screen industries here in Northern Ireland.

“Our CoSTAR Experience Lab will be located at Studio Ulster, a £75m, state-of-the-art virtual production facility that is set to become a global hub for the creative industries.

“Studio Ulster will support the growth of this fast growing sector in Northern Ireland and will now be underpinned by a world-class research facility.”

The network includes a national lab and new Insight and Foresight Unit led by Goldsmiths and the British Film Institute, alongside regional hubs in Dundee, Yorkshire and Belfast.

Other partners in the project include BBC Northern Ireland, Belfast Harbour, Northern Ireland Screen and specialist animation studio Humain.

It is part of the UK Government’s Creative Industries Sector Vision to grow the creative industries by £50bn and support a million more jobs by 2030.

The UU consortium has been selected by the Government as a preferred bidder to host one of four new labs specialising in the future of virtual production.

They are charged with developing a new range of real-time content production techniques using computer-generated imagery (CGI), augmented reality and motion capture to create virtual sets, world and experiences.

Instead of adding visual effects and CGI in post-production, virtual production allows filmmakers and theatre directors to create large-scale digitally-generated environments that performers can interact with in real-time using LED panels, as a faster and less expensive alternative to green screens.

The technology has been used in the Abba Voyage live concert at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London and on Disney’s show The Mandalorian.

The lab is part of UKRI’s Convergent Screen Technologies and performance in Realtime (CoSTAR) programme, the largest virtual production research and development network in Europe.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “Northern Ireland has a long history in film, TV and the performing arts.

“It is home to dramatic and unforgettable scenery and is a hotbed of highly skilled creatives, many of whom were behind popular productions such as the Oscar-winning Belfast, Line of Duty and Game of Thrones.

“Today’s plans will put Belfast at the forefront of new technology which will underpin the next generation of filming and live events.

“Working in tandem with a network of experts, this new lab will make sure the UK stays ahead of the latest developments transforming our screens and stages.”

Source: Belfast Telegraph (link opens in new window)