The Space is an organisation that aims to build digital capacity across the UK. As part of our focus on new technologies, they kindly agreed to speak with us about what they do and how that relates to animation.
Can you summarise what The Space does for someone who might not know?
Briefly, The Space is a commissioning and development programme, founded by the BBC and Arts Council England, to build digital capacity across the UK arts and cultural sector. We work primarily with arts organisations to increase their audience reach and impact using digital technologies and platforms, helping them to make the most of the opportunities that digital presents, building sustainability into the core of their digital strategies.
In the last three years, The Space has commissioned over 200 projects, which have and achieved online and broadcast audiences in excess of 20 million. We look to increase access to cultural works that are otherwise not available to many people for reasons of cost, accessibility, geography, and perceived relevance as well as reaching new audiences who may not consume arts through traditional routes.
We have supported organisations across the cultural spectrum, commissioning large-scale captures of ballets, operas, jazz concerts, spoken word, theatre, contemporary dance and other cultural events and worked with visual arts teams, museums, games designers, audio producers, filmmakers, animators and a range of content creators and you can examples of our work over on the website.
Can you talk about how some of the projects you’ve supported have used animation?
The Space has supported a number of projects that have used animation in an interesting way.
My Name is Peter Stillman is a virtual reality experience created by 59 Productions to accompany City of Glass, a stage production inspired by Paul Auster’s celebrated first novel. Sitting in a reconstruction of the apartment from the production, viewers watch themselves delivering a monologue in their own reflection of a nearby window. In the experience, the viewer’s reflection dynamically mirrors their own movements as hand-drawn animation spreads across their face and the environment, distorting the line between reality and fiction as the strange and haunting story of Daniel Quinn unfolds.
The work was the winner of British Animation Awards, Expanded Animation Award in March 2018. ‘City of Glass’ toured various locations and, part of the fascinating use of animation here, is that it extends the live performance beyond the stage, taking the character out into public facing areas of arts organisations and venues, such as foyers and reception areas, giving audiences access to the play’s characters through animation and immersive technologies.
All The Delicate Duplicates, developed by Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell, is a PC game and a web-based short story where users explore a story-world environment in a place where time no longer feels stable or linear. It’s really as much about the narrative as it is about gaming animation, but animation is key to how the worlds and characters are created, offering a series of windows into the imaginary worlds. It’s a great example of the ways in which narrative, when combined with animation, can create immersive animated environments that allow audiences to experience virtual worlds.
All The Delicate Duplicates is very much about how the characters and world connect to the audiences across platforms, Steam was key to how we engaged audiences and Steam is a digital distribution platform developed for purchasing and playing video games. Steam offers digital rights management, matchmaking servers, video streaming, and social networking services so it connects across multiple platforms with a range of audiences.
Golem is a stage production from 1927 that fuses hand-made animation, live performance, theatre and music where the actors on stage interact with pre-recorded animations. The high-tech show involves a very bright projector, providing light source for the actors and the background and set is comprised of computer animations, created originally by hand, frame by frame, by Paul Barritt. The production is complex, highly choreographed, minutely orchestrated and intensely rehearsed – multimedia in the true sense of the word.
We also worked with Northern Ballet on a beautiful animation for their production of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The work illustrates an interview with novelist John Boyne regarding his best-selling novel, which was transformed into a ballet by the company. John shares his thoughts and ideas behind the novel and other aspects of the creative process are also accompanied by animation, making use of existing costume and stage designs.
How might animators utilise VR?
There has been a great deal written about how animating for virtual reality projects is different to animating for traditional linear viewing experiences, but increasingly we’re seeing huge potential for the ways in which immersive technologies can expand and develop the remit of animation. Within virtual reality, a lot of what you see is already effectively animation, much of virtual reality is environments and characters generated from scratch using animation. There are many different specialities and areas of expertise that go into making animation in virtual reality, including concept art and design, sculpting, modelling, rigging, animation, motion and performance capture, styling, lighting, programmatic arrangement, animation control systems and performance tuning.
There are lots of studios, agencies and animators experimenting with VR out there now, I’d recommend looking at what’s happening across sectors including creative, gaming, film, animation, broadcast, architecture, commercial and advertising to see the breadth of where VR/AR and more mixed reality experiments are happening.
There are other also larger tools in development that are changing the wider animation industries approach to VR– Tvori is one of the most evolved tools, another exciting example of different VR possibilities can be seen with projects from larger animation studios like Disney’s PoseVR, a new experimental project established to demonstrate the potential of VR as a tool to pose and animate CG characters. These are examples of new in-house tools being developed by studios that allow animators to work with a posable rig in VR, which in some ways has parallels to how stop-motion animators manipulate objects in 3D space. PoseVR actually developed as part of a Disney studio internship project and has subsequently been used in the production of the Disney studio’s first VR project, Cycles.
Another interesting development was Adobe acquiring Mettle’s Skybox Plugins with a view to incorporating their tech and processes into Adobe Creative Suite. I’ve seen a significant number of 360 and VR projects realised with that seamless integration of new features into existing tools.
What advice would you give to animators on collaborating with organisations, whether that’s approaching them about a project idea or being employed to work on an organisation’s project?
Do your research and find out which organisations are commissioning different animation work and why they’re commissioning it.
At The Space, we’re trying to educate cultural organisations about animation – not just in terms of storytelling but in its potential for increased audience engagement in a crowded video market. We aim to reassure them that it doesn’t have to be expensive and can be far more than just short animated cartoons and explainers. We’ve worked with animators on VR, 360, concept work, storyboards – lots of different things. They are, at their core, fantastically versatile and creative visual storytellers who can bring a new perspective to the editorial you’re creating.
What advice would you give to venues looking to exhibit digital work?
Think about the audience you’re aiming to reach and tailor the content to that – not just in terms of where you put it, but in how it is produced, shaped and spoken about. Think about how your audiences will engage and why? Also, give some thought to your social platforms, they are an important extension of your physical venue – and should have as much focus, care and attention as physical gallery spaces or stages.