Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: National capability for R&D in screen and performance

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Apply for Convergent Screen Technologies And performance in Realtime (CoSTAR) funding to host national research and development (R&D) facilities to drive innovation and creativity in the UK’s screen and performance industries.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

Standard AHRC eligibility rules apply.

Funding will be awarded in 2 lots:

  1. Lot 1: £51.1 million over 6 years, to design, build, develop and test the CoSTAR national lab: a state-of-the-art R&D and innovation facility for the screen and performance. Also, to provide a knowledge exchange and enterprise function and demonstrator or pilot programme.
  2. Lot 2: £12.6 million over 6 years for the delivery of (up to) 3 CoSTAR network labs. These may be upgrades or enhancements of existing facilities.

AHRC plan to issue a subsequent funding opportunity (Lot 3) for a data insight and foresight unit (c£9.0 million).

Costs are reimbursed at 100% of the full economic cost (the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system form will indicate funding at 80% but this will be amended before grants commence). Indexation (inflation adjustment) will not be added to these grants.

Who can apply

Applications must be led by Je-S registered research organisations eligible to receive UKRI funding. This includes:

  • UK small specialist institutions (SSIs)
  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • UKRI-approved research technical organisations
  • public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Organisations, such as businesses or third sector organisations, that are not eligible to receive a direct grant may participate and receive funding as collaborators or partners.

Check if you are eligible to lead an application.

Additional eligibility criteria

Applications for lot 1 (CoSTAR national R&D lab):

  • must be led by a research organisation eligible for direct UKRI funding research organisations, independent research organisations or research technical organisations
  • must be partnerships or consortia including within the partnership at least:
    • 1 commercial studio or industry co-location partner
    • 1 local enterprise partnership (LEP), local or combined authority or equivalent economic development body or enterprise agency

Applicants must also be able to demonstrate proof of wider industry support and collaboration locally and nationally that will deliver significant co-investment from the private, public or third sectors.

Applications for lot 2 (CoSTAR networked labs):

  • must be led by a research organisation eligible for direct UKRI funding research organisations, independent research organisations or research technical organisations
  • must be partnerships or consortia including within the partnership at least:
    • 1 commercial or industry co-location partner
    • 1 LEP, local or combined authority or equivalent economic development body or enterprise agency

Applicants must also be able to demonstrate proof of wider industry support and collaboration locally that will deliver significant co-investment from the private, public or third sectors.

AHRC will award a maximum of 4 grants: 1 for lot 1 and up to 3 for lot 2.

Bidders may submit for the national lab (lot 1) and for 1, 2 or all 3 network labs (lot 2).

Bidders will not be awarded grants to operate both the national lab and any networked labs. Award of the national lab facility will take precedent in any bid for both facilities.

Other organisations may partner with a maximum of 2 bids for lot 1 and 3 bids for lot 2.

Individual eligibility

To lead an application for this opportunity, you must:

  • be a resident in the UK
  • be employed at, or have a formal affiliation with a UK research organisation, independent research organisation, SSI, or research organisation eligible to receive UKRI funding
  • have a doctorate or demonstrate equivalent professional experience or training
  • have an outstanding track record of strategic planning and delivery of major capital or R&D and innovation programmes for the screen and performance sectors
  • have or be able to build and maintain relationships with diverse stakeholders from the creative research community, screen (film, TV, games) and performance sectors government and the wider creative industries
  • be engaged in leading-edge research and innovation of professorial or equivalent standing applicable to the creative industries
  • demonstrate a level of skills, knowledge and experience appropriate to the nature of the project

You should not apply if your organisation has limited knowledge or does not have expertise in R&D and innovation in the screen and performance industries and in technology related to the creative industries.

This funding opportunity is concerned with the UK context only. International collaborations are not eligible under this scheme.

Please see AHRC’s research funding guide for further information on eligibility.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

AHRC is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, and we want this funding opportunity to be attractive to all eligible candidates.

Principal investigators are entitled to take parental leave in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment. We will consider requests for a grant to be placed in abeyance during the absence of the principal investigator for parental leave, and the period of the project extended by the period of leave.

We will also consider requests to continue the grant project on a flexible or part-time basis, to allow the principal investigator to meet caring responsibilities or for other justifiable reasons, such as physical or mental health.

Please see our equality impact assessment in the ‘Additional info’ section for details.

What we're looking for

Objectives

This is a 6-year capital programme to design, develop and build state-of-the-art facilities, resources and expertise to underpin the long-term competitiveness of the UK screen and performance sector. It will provide a highly capable R&D infrastructure that enables researchers, companies and institutions across the UK access to the facilities, capabilities and insight necessary to ensure that they can conduct world class R&D in the application of current and future waves of advanced computing technologies. These technologies will transform the means of production across the screen, performance and allied sectors of the creative industries.

The CoSTAR infrastructure and facilities will also:

  • lead and coordinate the technological development of the UK screen and performance sectors developing new methods, solutions, processes, products and experiences
  • build, strengthen and deepen the UK creative technology ecosystem including the pipeline for research talent and skills
  • maximise arising economic opportunities:
    • to support the commercialisation of creative technology and creative content intellectual property, products and services
    • to support the formation and growth of highly capable creative technology firms
  • make a positive long-term contribution to the development of the UK screen and performance industries across the UK

All applications to this funding opportunity must demonstrate how they will meet these objectives.

Competition scope

Funding will be awarded in 2 lots which together will make up the core of the CoSTAR infrastructure.

Lot 1: the CoSTAR national R&D lab

Lot 1 will be a grant of £51.1 million over 6 years, to design, build, develop and test a national, state-of-the-art research, development and innovation facility for the screen and performance industries.

The successful consortium will set out a programme to:

  • design, build and fit out 1 state-of-the art creative R&D facility, including relevant technology infrastructure. This facility could constitute a refurbishment or new build and must:
    • be co-sited with a major studio or production
    • focus on applied research (technology readiness levels 3 to 6), with a strong internal technology development capability
    • manage the R&D laboratory facility, including staff resourcing (research, engineering, technical, management) for a period of 6 years
  • support small and medium-sized enterprises participation and use of the facilities by industry partners and researchers
  • deliver and support a series of demonstrator or pilot projects to pump-prime market driven access to the facility, including operational support and expertise. These will be ambitious collaborative R&D projects using any elements of the CoSTAR infrastructure to ensure market driven access to the facility, including operational support and expertise
  • support and house a knowledge exchange, commercialisation and enterprise unit at the national lab capable of supporting commercialisation of developments arising from the infrastructure including intellectual property, process innovation and new business models
  • develop and implement model to secure external funding for the national R&D lab and ensure long-term financial sustainability

Lot 2: networked labs

Lot 2 will comprise grants totalling £12.6 million for the design, fit out and testing of up to 3 network labs for a period of 6 years. The successful bidding consortia for these facilities will set out a programme that will:

  • design and fit out of state-of-the art creative R&D facilities including relevant technology infrastructure. These facilities may constitute a refurbishment or extension of an existing facility and must be co-sited with a screen production facility, studio or performance company
  • focus on near market research and innovation (technology readiness levels 6 to 9) and serve an identified geographic or sectoral community (or possibly both)
  • collaborate with the national lab to identify opportunities and needs for coordinated R&D programmes and disseminate national lab research outcomes
  • propose and contribute to demonstrator or pilot programmes with the national lab
  • provide access to knowledge exchange, commercialisation and enterprise functions for network lab partners
  • manage the R&D laboratory facilities, including staff resourcing for a period of 6 years
  • develop and implement a model to secure external co-investment for the network labs to ensure long-term financial sustainability

The provision of a data, insight and foresight unit to complete the infrastructure will be the subject of a future AHRC funding opportunity (c£9.0 million).

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in:

Please ensure that the applicant and the host organisation are Je-S registered in advance to the closing date as this verification process can take several weeks.

Your host organisation will be able to provide advice and guidance.

We recommend you start your application early.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search:
    • for strand 1, ‘CoSTAR National Lab 02 Feb 2023’
    • for strand 2, ‘CoSTAR Networked Lab 02 Feb 2023’

This will populate:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: large grants
  • call/type/mode: for strand one, add ‘CoSTAR National Lab 02 Feb 2023’, for strand two, add ‘CoSTAR Networked Lab 02 Feb 2023’

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Deadline

AHRC must receive your application by 2 February 2023 at 16:00 UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

In addition to completing the relevant sections of the Je-S form, your application must also include the following attachments.

Case for support

Lot 1: 8 pages to include your proposal for the provision of the CoSTAR national lab facilities, the knowledge exchange, commercialisation and enterprise unit, and the demonstrator or pilot programme.

Lot 2: 6 pages to include your proposal for the provision of 1, 2 or 3 CoSTAR network labs.

Your case for support should set out:

  • your overall approach and vision
  • response to delivering on the capabilities
  • expertise and capabilities of your partnership
  • contribution of your proposal to the CoSTAR infrastructure
  • additionality of your proposal to existing capabilities
  • long term impact of your proposal nationally, regionally or locally
  • future sustainability of your proposal beyond, if funding

Delivery plan

Set out:

  • your approach to project management and project management methodology
  • the milestones, critical path and delivery schedules from project initiation through to bringing the facilities online
  • your timelines for build-up of team members and associated resources and your plans for mitigating any critical delays

4 pages plus a 1 page max A3 equivalent Gantt chart and 2 pages (max) of site or planning charts, drawings, internal layouts or similar.

Management plan

How you plan to deliver and manage the infrastructure.

Your delivery structure should identify the roles and responsibilities of the lead bidder and core partners.

Your management structure should identify leadership and management roles, full organisational structure, any named individuals, and key senior roles to be recruited for:

  • lot 1: 4 pages plus organisation chart
  • lot 2: 3 pages plus organisation chart

Partner statements

Set out the profile, role in your proposal, time and personnel commitment, and resource contribution (including costed in-kind contributions and any co-investment) of up to 5 core partners.

These must include partner statements from any industry co-siting partner and any regional or economic development partner. Partner statements must be signed at a senior management level.

2 pages per core partner, maximum 5 core partners.

Risk register

Set out key risks and proposed mitigations.

2 pages.

Equality, diversity and inclusion and sustainability targets

Detail:

  • your approach (and any targets you propose) with respect to equality, diversity and inclusion
  • your approach to monitoring (and any targets you propose) for the environmental sustainability of your submission

2 pages.

Guidance for the above sections can be found under the ‘Supporting documents’ heading in the ‘Additional info’ section.

All applications must also include the following:

  • justification of resources or financial narrative (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • business case for any equipment costing more than £115,000 (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • CVs of investigators, co-investigators, any named technical specialists or senior staff (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • a letter of support from the head of the lead institution, confirming that the institution will host a national facility, on the institution’s letterhead and dated within 6 months of the funding opportunity deadline (maximum 2 A4 sides)
  • a maximum of 5 letters of support from prospective users, setting out what the new facilities would enable them to do that would otherwise not be possible. These should also be supplied on letter-headed paper and dated within 6 months of the funding opportunity deadline (maximum 2 A4 sides each)

How we will assess your application

Applications will be assessed by an independent panel of experts comprised of:

  • senior members of the research community with relevant experience
  • screen and performance industry leaders
  • innovators and experts in the creative economy

Applications will be assessed in 3 stages.

Stage 1

For stage 1, applications for both lots will be assessed against the following :

  • strategic fit, suitability to host and vision (30% weighting):
    • your current capability or the collective current capability of your consortium or partnership
    • technical and sector R&D and innovation expertise
    • the extent to which your proposed programme and vision meets the stated objectives of CoSTAR and contributes to the delivery of the whole infrastructure
    • strength of your proposal in delivering the required capabilities
    • evidence of industry support and demand for services
    • ability of your partnership to contribute to the sustainability of the infrastructure through ongoing co-investment
  • deliverability and value for money (25% weighting):
    • achievability of proposed timescales and workstreams achievable within the proposed budget. Will they deliver on stated objectives?
    • identified and mitigation of critical risks?
    • quality of delivery plan and management structure across the partners
    • amount of initial co-investment committed by the partners
    • quality and robustness of plan for monitoring, measuring and evaluating progress
    • credibility, affordability and value for money
  • contribution to UK creative innovation (25% weighting):
    • what will be the long-term impact of funding your proposal locally or nationally?
    • how well will your proposed programme boost productivity, skills and the formation and growth of firms and the commercialisation of intellectual property?
    • does your proposal include plans to grow private sector investment?
    • will it build on or enable the development of local and regional excellence in creativity and innovation?
  • contribution to environmental sustainability (10% weighting):
    • how does your proposal embed principles of environmental sustainability?
    • how does you proposed programme contribute to the decarbonisation of the screen and performance sectors or the wider creative industries?
    • will it contribute to UKRI’s commitment to carbon-neutrality across all research undertakings by 2040?
  • contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector (10% weighting)
    • how will your proposed programme improve diversity within the screen and performance sectors, the wider creative industries or the creative technology sector?
    • how will you drive equality, diversity and inclusion within the facilities you host and amongst the user group of researchers and companies?

Stage 2

Shortlisted applications will progress to stage 2.

The panel will provide feedback for each shortlisted proposal, requesting clarification where appropriate. Consortia leads will then be invited to respond to comments and discuss any issues raised in a face-to-face meeting, which can be either in-person or remote.

Stage 3

In stage 3, the panel will select and recommend for funding a portfolio of up to 4 6-year grants comprising:

  • 1 grant for lot 1
  • up to 3 grants for lot 2

In constructing the portfolio, the panel will consider a range of factors including, but not restricted to:

  • complementarity across different components of the portfolio
  • future innovation capability
  • levels of co-investment committed
  • geographic spread, particularly with regard to providing a robust national infrastructure accessible to all and increasing access to CoSTAR facilities by researchers and businesses across the UK sectoral coverage, ensuring that the infrastructure underpins future growth across film, TV, games and performance sectors

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

CoSTAR delivery team

Email: costar@ahrc.ukri.org

Include ‘CoSTAR Lot 1/2’ (delete as appropriate) in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 2 working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

The UK’s creative industries are world leading. From our film and television companies to our museums and galleries, they are, as government has said, ‘at the heart of the nation’s competitive advantage’. However, their current success and global leadership is at risk through a wave of technological disruption transforming the way creative products and experiences are made and ultimately the way they are consumed.

The Convergent Screen Technologies and performance in Realtime (CoSTAR) programme is part of a £481 million portfolio of research and innovation infrastructure investments announced in June 2022.

The CoSTAR programme proposes a national response to the risks and challenges facing our screen and performance industries. It seeks to reinforce our strategic leadership position in the global creative industries by investing in world-leading research, development and innovation (RD&I) facilities and programmes that will unlock the immediate and long term economic and creative value set of a set of rapidly evolving creative technologies.

The challenge

The last decade has seen a new convergence of technology and media, with global giants such as Amazon, Netflix and Disney consolidating the technologies, production, and distribution of content together and achieving unprecedented market power.

One side effect of this changing environment has been a significant and ongoing new wave of investment into studio facilities in the UK. From multi-billion-dollar inward investments by the world’s largest media companies to smaller regional facilities.

However, within this period of global structural change, the last 5 years has seen another opportunity in RD&I emerge.

A suite of advanced computing technologies, some developed from within the creative industries, some from the wider digital technology sector have converged to create new opportunities, methods and workflows with the potential to transform the production process across the whole sector.

In film and high-end TV, where adoption has been rapid this new creative technology stack has become known as ‘virtual production’ built on real-time software engines from the game industry; but also including in-camera visual FX, performance capture; LED volumes, future networks, machine learning and more.

This set of emerging tools and processes hold the promise to make content production cheaper, greener and better able to meet global market demand.

Virtual production technologies have already had a significant impact in the screen industries, from initial ground-breaking productions such as Disney’s Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian to recent applications on HBO’s Game of Thrones at Warners UK Leavesden studios.

The potential for these same technologies to transform the performance sector has also been shown by projects such as The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Dream.online. In the screen sector, applications of these technologies will impact production companies; studio operators, performance companies, production technology groups; VFX providers and technology suppliers.

The opportunity

As these technologies become more accessible and develop further through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, this transformation will extend across the creative industries through advertising, marketing and communication sectors, culture and heritage and far beyond linear experiences into the connected virtual environments that make up the metaverse. The metaverse is the next major phase in the development of the digital and creative economies.

As the initial phase of what is intended to be a sustained RD&I investment, CoSTAR starting point is today’s virtual production environment, but its future is in allowing the UK’s creative industries a research infrastructure to explore the technologies and commercial opportunities of the metaverse.

Over the last 5 years, a series of public investments made by UKRI have shown evidence of the impact that can be delivered through applied creative R&D programmes including the Audience of the Future Challenge the Digital Catapult and Arts Council England programme Creative XR, but these programmes have been project-based and time-limited.

The extended timeframe and devolved decision making of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme has demonstrated how longer-term higher education institutions (HEI) and industry partnerships supported by local, regional (and in the UK nations) and national economic partners can massively amplify the impact of UKRI funding raising more than £3 in co-investment for every £1 invested by UKRI through AHRC.

It is because of this evidence that we are calling for similar partnerships to deliver the CoSTAR infrastructure with research organisations, independent research organisations, and research technical organisations leading consortia delivering the infrastructure.

The facilities delivered through CoSTAR will offer the UK’s screen and performance sector a long-term infrastructure to build a new capability for the UK in creative technology R&D.

Co-siting these facilities with industry, rather than within universities will ensure that they are always engaged with the cutting edge of industry practice. HEI leadership will ensure that the research and engineering teams within these facilities will conduct new high-quality R&D as well as support the development of innovative solutions. The participation of economic development partners will ensure that each facility in the network can support, sustain and grow a cluster of new high growth creative technology companies exploiting and commercialising the opportunities of this valuable and transformative R&D.

Supporting documents

Funding opportunity invitation (PDF, 537KB)

Attachments specification (PDF, 109KB)

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 272KB)

Please use the headings in the attachment specification document for the following components of your application:

  • case for support
  • delivery plan
  • management plan
  • partner statements
  • risk register
  • equaility, diversity and inclusion and sustainability targets

Other documents to help develop your application

We have compiled all of the questions and answers from the series of briefing events and the CoSTAR email inbox where we have been asked to elaborate on the funding opportunity detail. See the CoSTAR national capability in screen and performance: fund FAQs.

For information about what we presented you can see the CoSTAR briefing event slides (PDF, 3MB)

You can watch a YouTube video of the first briefing event in the series, held in Cardiff.

You can also watch a YouTube video of the last briefing event in the series, held in London.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.