Two virtual production suites in Dundee and Edinburgh are to boost Scotland’s creative industries.

The facilities at Abertay University and the University of Edinburgh will harness ‘next generation content’ production methods – with artificial intelligence embedded at its heart.

They will use a new cinematography technique which blends computer-generated imagery (CGI), augmented reality and motion capture to create virtual film and performance sets. 

In a traditional film or television production, actors perform in front of a ‘green screen’, which is then replaced with computer-generated imagery, post-production. With virtual production, the CGI is created in real-time using game engines such as Unreal Engine.

AI further aids this process by generating content like landscapes and architecture, tracking movement on set, and capturing ͏motion data in real-time.

The Convergent Screen Technologies and Performance in Realtime (CoSTAR) programme will see the creation of five labs supported by £75.6m in UK Government funding and private co-investment. Dundee and Edinburgh, split across two sites, represents one of those labs in the UK-wide network.

Professor Gregor White of Abertay University and CoSTAR Realtime Lab lead, said: “The convergence of new technologies means that our screen media and performance sectors have become closer than ever before, providing a golden opportunity for companies to expand and diversify their offer.

“With a global reputation as a leader in technology and the birthplace of the video games industry, Scotland already has a strong backbone of large businesses and SMEs working in this space, ideally placed to take advantage of the growing demand. By working closely with our core partners and supporters, listening to the requirements of industry and linking into the future-focused work of the National Lab, CoSTAR Realtime will provide the R&D support needed to spark economic growth and innovation for this exciting new sector.”

Melissa Terras, professor of digital cultural heritage at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Edinburgh’s arts and cultural communities are at the forefront of the creative industries. Our involvement in CoSTAR will ensure that a wide variety of creative practitioners have the opportunity and ability to engage with and access innovative virtual production facilities.

“In addition, the University of Edinburgh’s world-leading expertise in artificial intelligence will support the wider CoSTAR community. We’re delighted to be at the heart of this UK initiative, continuing to build a bridge between technology and the creative industries.” 

The CoSTAR Realtime Lab is led by Abertay University in Dundee in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, Interface, Chroma Developments and the Scottish Government’s Techscaler programme. 

The national network will provide researchers, companies and institutions across the UK with the infrastructure they need to conduct world-class research and development (R&D) in screen and performance technology. It will specialise in virtual production – a new cinematography technique which uses computer-generated imagery (CGI), augmented reality and motion capture to create virtual film and performance sets. 

Abertay University is the only institution to have been selected by AHRC to work across two network sites and will also be a key partner on the CoSTAR National Lab based at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, led by Royal Holloway, University of London, in partnership with BT, disguise, the University of Surrey/Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI, Surrey County Council and the National Film and Television School.

The primary CoSTAR Realtime Lab will be constructed at Water’s Edge in Dundee (a site owned by Chroma Developments) with a second CoSTAR Realtime Lab site to be based at Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh. In addition to the core partners, CoSTAR Realtime is also supported by Scottish Enterprise, Screen Scotland and Amazon Web Services.