Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Audience of the future

Audience of the Future was a UKRI Challenge Fund investment of £39.3 million into the development of new immersive technologies such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The challenge also invested in research to better understand audiences for immersive productions in the fields of art, culture, heritage and entertainment.

Budget:
£39.3 million
Duration:
2018 to March 2022
Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Audience of the Future challenge has invested in:

  • A Demonstrator programme funding major projects exploring large-scale immersive experiences, covering four main entertainment sectors:
    • e-sports and gaming
    • performance
    • moving image
    • visitor experience
  • Production Innovation for Immersive Content: research and development projects to support the creation of faster, more efficient immersive content
  • An Immersive Technology Investment Accelerator to support early-stage businesses
  • Design Foundations competitions to support projects exploring human-centred design
  • StoryFutures Academy, a National Centre for Immersive Storytelling

Opportunities, support and resources available

We are no longer funding new projects under this challenge, but you can search on our website for UKRI Challenge funding, and any wider opportunities related to creative industries and immersive technology.

Our funding opportunities may fund research and development projects that are classed as feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

The £16 million Demonstrator programme funded industry-led consortia in the creative industries to create new immersive experiences and test them with audience members.

The chosen four ground-breaking projects represented the most advanced public trials of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) content anywhere in the world. They included:

  • an immersive performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • an interactive visitor experience about robots and dinosaurs
  • a cross-reality experience in e-sports
  • an immersive experience with Wallace and Gromit

These flagship projects brought together some of the largest brands in the British creative industries to help viewers connect with their imagination and step into alternative realities.

WEAVR: Immersive Cross-Reality Experiences in Esports (Esports Demonstrator)

Developed by a partnership between leading esports, research and creative technology companies, including ESL and the University of York, Weavr is a groundbreaking AI driven immersive platform that uses gameplay data to transform how remote audiences experience esports.

Esports are video games that are played competitively and watched by massive international audiences. In 2018, over 380 million people worldwide watched esports, and the number of esports fans was projected to surge upwards to almost 560 million in 2021, but the market is still shy of utilising its full potential.

This project, led by the world’s largest esports company ESL, produced a new platform called Weavr that leverages the data-rich environment of esports to transform the way esports are experienced by remote audiences.

Viewers are able to teleport between the live arena, virtual game worlds and augmented living rooms by using multiple displays, mobile devices, VR video telepresence and augmented reality overlays. With these cross-reality spaces, fans can immerse themselves in statistics, visualisations and data-driven stories and then share their individual viewing experiences with other Weavr users in real-time, blurring the boundaries between consuming and creating.

Watch audiences try the WEAVR prototype (YouTube)

Wallace and Gromit: The Big Fix Up (Moving Image Demonstrator)

The Big Fix Up, a unique collaboration between Fictioneers and Aardman, aimed to create an immersive and engaging narrative of the Wallace and Gromit franchise, accessed in both the public and private sphere and appealing to all ages.

Wallace and Gromit is a British claymation franchise which first aired in the late 1980’s and has since become a cherished icon of British culture. Creators Aardman Animations have developed several adaptations on the franchise, including video games but with the demonstrator, the lines between player and spectator are blurred with Aardman and Fictioneers’ truly immersive experience, The Big Fix Up.

The Big Fix Up is a first-of-its-kind, story-driven multiplayer adventure which blends storytelling and gaming into one world. The story, which unfolds via augmented and mixed reality gameplay, CG animations, in-character phone calls, comic strips and more, is based around Wallace and Gromit’s new business venture ‘Spick & Spanners’, and can either take place in users’ own gardens at home or in city centres around the world in AR. The end result is an experience which continually engages with and influences the user.

See the making of Wallace and Gromit: The Big Fix Up (YouTube)

Dream (Performance Demonstrator)

The Royal Shakespeare Company has worked with 15 specialist organisations from theatre, music, video production, gaming and research to stream live performances to mobile phones and extended reality headsets. Using motion capture and computer game technologies, Dream is a live, online performance delivering a wholly new interpretation of Shakespeare and an entirely new channel for theatre.

Virtual, augmented and mixed reality offer under-exploited opportunities for the UK cultural sector to make live performances more immersive. In this project, the consortium of partners explored live performance and the future of real-time immersive performance across multiple platforms in a new production inspired by the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Audiences are no longer be bound by their location. The project used devices such as mobile phones and extended reality (XR) headsets to stream into a live performance environment, or in the home.

Working in partnership with Magic Leap, Intel and Epic Games, and specialist companies such as Vicon and FBFX, the consortium developed models for live performance that focus on the future needs of audiences. This research and development work led to a main demonstrator performance at the heart of the RSC’s autumn 2021 programme.

This demonstrator broadened the possibilities of live performance, from current digital broadcast to a mass distributed digital model on multiple platforms. Audiences can connect with the performance live, wherever their location, celebrating the strengths of digital connectivity and establishing a high-quality live performance to be enjoyed in a variety of ways around the world.

Dinosaurs and Robots (Visitor Experience Demonstrator)

This augmented reality experience combined mixed reality technology with immersive theatre, to create two separate experiences where visitors could explore multi-sensory and interactive worlds. The project, led by Factory 42, encouraged families to build and play games using mobile technology, creativity, and skills in science and engineering.

With leading expertise from Sky, the Almeida and Factory 42 the Science Museum Group and the Natural History Museum, the consortium set out to build portable sets to transport Dinosaurs and Robots as ‘pop-up’ experiences to audiences in shopping centres, in partnership with retail group Intu.

To reach audiences at home, the consortium created download-at-home apps distributed by Sky and Magic Leap. On top of this, the consortium designed and built an in-person experience at Hoxton Docks, London, where they demonstrated an in-person performance using aspects from live theatre, storytelling and cutting-edge immersive technology.

See the promo video (YouTube)

The StoryFutures Academy

The StoryFutures Academy supports skills development in immersive storytelling through experimental labs, boot camps, workshops and placements.

StoryFutures Academy delivers cutting-edge creative training and research programmes in immersive storytelling to ensure the UK creative workforce is the most skilled in the world in the use of immersive technologies. As well as experimental labs, workshops, placements and courses, the centre supports and co-funds dozens of real immersive productions with a focus on storytelling.

The centre, which officially opened in late 2018, is led by the National Film & Television School (NFTS) and Royal Holloway, University of London and is supported by world-leading creative organisations, including BFI, Punchdrunk, the BBC, Rewind VR, ILMxLab and Passion Pictures.

By providing paid support for professional level training, the National Centre builds a virtuous circle of innovation, including hands-on learning on live projects which enable risk-taking and cross-sector collaboration. It banks the time of these professionals in commitments to ‘time back’ to teach future cohorts of learners, building a deep reservoir of insights that can service a talent pipeline for years to come.

Watch video of immersive workshop with BBC3 (YouTube)

Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom

The immersive VR studio Maze Theory is developing a new virtual reality drama game based on BAFTA-award winning Peaky Blinders. The game will use artificial intelligence to enable characters to respond to players’ gestures, movement, voice, sound and body language.

Who to contact

Ask a question about Audience of the Future

Contact Matt Sansam, Deputy Director:

Email: matt.sansam@iuk.ukri.org

Last updated: 17 January 2024

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