StoryFutures: Gateway Cluster Partnership for Audiovisual Digital Creativity

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Media Arts

Abstract

The stories of tomorrow will reach audiences in new and complex ways, fuelled by immersive technologies, data-driven personalisation, smart devices and AI alongside evolutions in contemporary screen form. Screen industries' creative story processes, techniques, business models, value networks and workflows are thus challenged to iterate a next generation of storytelling that can engage audiences in novel and commercially viable experiences.
We span screen and createch industries, converging world leaders in storytelling, including Double Negative, Punchdrunk, nDreams, Sony, Pinewood, BBC Worldwide, HTC Vive and the BFI, to work alongside SMEs. We match these with academic expertise traversing story form (Media, Gaming, Drama); audience behaviour (Psychology); business models (Management); production cultures (Media); hardware, software and user interfaces (Engineering, Comp Sci, Design), to facilitate R&D that will create innovative and compelling content, products and service for emerging creative technologies. StoryFutures will grow both screen and createch industries. Led by an innovative StoryLab model, we work across 4 themes: T1 StoryLab; T2 Value Networks; T3 Data in the Creative Workflow; T4 Audience Engagement.
Our StoryLab (T1) provides expertise and space for collaborative approaches to creative challenges that are barriers to business growth, such as how to increase user comfort in VR, build social immersive experiences or novel exploitation of existent IP. It will operate at professional and student level, spanning FE, HE and CPD, training a next generation of storytellers and entrepreneurs in world-class creative content and products. StoryLab will develop, fund and support prototype and risky innovations in story form that tackle such challenges, providing SMEs with new business opportunities and access to further funding and mentoring (T2). SF's R&D programme links these innovative productions with R&D on the effective management of data in the creative production pipeline, enabling more efficient and creative workflows (T3). And, via our partner distribution platforms (HTC, Heathrow, BFI, Sky VR), tests next gen experiences with audiences in novel ways that produce rich understandings of their engagement, including cognitive and neurological responses linked to a long-range analysis of youth audiences' preferences in these new spaces (T4). Across this work we will grow revenues and jobs in our region and beyond.
With over £6.7m in leverage funding, SF is led by Royal Holloway together with its industry partners and HEIs, Brunel, NFTS and University of Creative Arts. SF spans film, television, gaming and immersion across a regional cluster that forms a gateway in and out of London. It will connect the film studios in the region's north to Guildford's gaming in the south, across to the west's plethora of createch companies and back to London's intensity of creative industries (see map). The cluster thus emphasises the region's - and UK economy's - fusion of digital and creative skills, with such companies likely to be 'more productive and have higher growth rates than [those] located entirely in one discipline' (Bazalgette 2017: 14). The region contains nearly 20% of the UK's high concentration, high growth creative Travel to Work Areas, forming the highest proportion of creative jobs and businesses outside of London. Within the cluster Heathrow constitutes "a critical driver of the area's economy" (TVBerkshire, 2017) as well as a gateway to the global markets and audiences that our innovative products and services must reach. SF will address a significant challenge for the UK creative economy in sustaining creative conurbations that have the potential for 'higher levels of business productivity' than Creative Cities (Nesta, 2016: 6). The Gateway Cluster thus has potential to form a powerhouse akin to the 'Golden Triangle' of medical research, industrial collaboration and innovation to its immediate north.

Planned Impact

SF has significant potential to support economic growth, innovation and value creation in the screen and creative technology industries at regional, national and international levels. It will tap un-explored creativity across a conurbation that spans screen industries and createch, reaching over 24,000 businesses. We will boost the £349m 2012-18 TTWAs' R&D spending that is currently below London levels, with every £1 R&D spend likely to lead to 20% increase p.a. of private sector R&D output (Haskel 2014).
We provide SF Partners and SMEs within the cluster with an architecture for innovative R&D, enabling product, content and experience development otherwise too risky. StoryLab (Theme 1) will broker collaborations across sectors to generate new market opportunities and provide participants with brand exposure on national/international platforms to facilitate further investment or sales opportunities. T4 audience research will provide insight for further development and investment. We link these insights to technological form, providing narrative engineering solutions to technical barriers that restrain creative innovation. We will develop workflow tools (T3) that are more efficient, enabling cost-savings and enhancing creative collaboration to foster innovation. Across our work packages, T2's R&D on value networks will provide companies with support for business growth via mentoring, funding applications, analysis of business needs, routes to finance and international export. T2 also provides network infrastructural support, including building and enhancing innovation nodes across the cluster. SF will provide a wider understanding of the creativity of conurbations to act as a blueprint for nationwide growth, producing 155 R&D projects, 20% increase in funding success, 55 jobs and reach over 1m audiences.
R&D will benefit policy stakeholders, trade bodies and networks nationally via reports, showcases, and network events to ensure companies outside the cluster gain insight to support innovation for competing at global scale in next gen story form and products. Our StoryLab will tackle industry wide challenges, offering national bodies research to guide and grow memberships. Policymakers (Ofcom, DCMS) will gain insights and recommendations on opportunities/barriers/models for future growth to inform industrial policy as well as audience behaviours and ethics to inform regulation. Locally we will have direct impact by investing in creative and digital business, including innovation funding for companies and providing increased incubation and scale-up space.
SF will have lasting impact via its focus on education and skills. It responds to industry emphasis on collaborative problem-solving and soft-skills, increased diversity and the need to teach creativity in conjunction with data skills and STEM to STEAM. Via HEIs that operate at FE, UG, PGT and CPD level we will create a talent pipeline to benefit the region's and nation's economy. We will also develop a 'next generation' of researcher, spanning industry and academia, via our support for PhD studentships and PDRA training. Our commitment to sustainability of the cluster will thus treat AHRC grant as seed funding for SF's growth, utilising a capped revenue share on StoryLab projects to return future successes for further innovation challenge funding, whilst grant applications to both commercial and public bodies are a key R&D activity. Significant investment in infrastructure, including a new building at RHUL, will continue SF activities beyond the funding period, whilst our dynamic and flexible project architecture allows short, medium and long-term benefits for partners who may come into contact with the R&D partnership at different points in its life cycle. Finally, the general public will gain new kinds of viewing experiences as well as a skilled and more diverse workforce that can ensure the UK's continued leadership in innovative and market-able story form and content.
 
Title AI-Spy 
Description AI-Spy is an innovation in artificial intelligence driven storytelling for immersive environments. The experience throws users into the lair of AI 'Spy Master', Alistair, who tests players emotionally and psychologically for a role in a new counter-intelligence agency. Run as an experimental research and development project (R&D) between Charisma.ai and StoryFutures in partnership with ProduceUK, AI-Spy set out to test new boundaries in VR and AI in playful but impactful ways. The experience was designed to address two key research questions: 1. Could AI could read and respond to human emotions? 2. What value does virtual reality offer to audiences, in terms of engagement and experience, compared with 2D? Over 2 weeks on site at Broadgate's prime 3FA location in central London, over 200+ Broadgate residents participated in the experiment. The findings show a huge appetite for this kind of experience, in both 2D and VR, 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The results outline some surprising preferences along gender lines as well as a high degree of enjoyment and repeatability. The large majority of users wanted more experiences like this at Broadgate and would tell their friends about this, taking away a positive view of Broadgate as a result of the experience. AI Spy showed great potential to provide tailored storytelling to individual's age, gender and emotional responses. Half of participants noticed that the experience was tailored to their age and gender. Over half of participants noticed the emotion based tailoring. In both instances, users felt that the tailoring really added value to the experience. One of the most significant findings was the impact of VR on levels of enjoyment and willingness to pay. Overall VR and 2D experiences were enjoyed equally, but when it came time to evaluate how much users would pay for the experience - VR was valued at nearly £1 more/experience than 2D overall. But this skewed very differently depending on gender, with women willing to pay much more for 2D than VR. AI-Spy will continue to be developed by Charisma.ai and StoryFutures. The AI platform has already been picked up by Sky to run a new interactive storytelling experience on TV for its highly acclaimed Bulletproof featuring Noel Clarke. 
URL https://accessaa.co.uk/ai-spy-launches-at-broadgate/
 
Title Cupsy: Immersive recycling bin 
Description Cupsy is the world's first immersive and interactive recycling bin. It fused a unique combination of consumer psychology, computer vision, emotion recognition and augmented reality technologies with great storytelling to engage Heathrow Terminal 5 passengers in the challenge of correct coffee cup recycling. StoryFutures collaborated with Heathrow's Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, Costa Coffee and local creative company Surround Vision to create Cupsy, an immersive technology prototype, as a way to improve coffee cup recycling rates. Cupsy was installed in Heathrow Terminal 5 for 4 weeks to compare its performance with previous recycling rates at the same location. Previous research at the airport has shown that people have the intention to recycle but don't actually do so. Cupsy represented an experiment to not only to change attitudes but to change behaviours directly as well. And it did so in an engaging and entertaining way! 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact An upturn in recycled coffee cups of 130% with over 6,000 cups recycled during a 4-week trial. Cupsy also worked to improve the passenger experience economy at the airport, with over 75% passengers enjoying the installation and 83% indicating they would like to see more experiences like Cupsy. 
URL https://www.storyfutures.com/showcase/cupsy-how-storyfutures-and-heathrow-made-virtual-recycling-a-r...
 
Title Virtual Veronese 
Description The National Gallery wished to explore innovation in the use of immersive technologies to reunite paintings in their collection with their original exhibition context. They partnered with StoryFutures as our first 'challenge-setter' for StoryLab to engage SMEs and academics on the challenge of creating a national institution's first AR/VR experience. Co-funded to the value of £60,000 +in-kind staffing resource and digital assets, the challenge attracted 5 of the most exciting SMEs in the region to collaborate with academics and National Gallery researchers for our inaugural StoryLab. Focal Point VR's innovative AR solution won the StoryLab commission, with Virtual Veronese playing to over 700 Gallery patrons in July and August of 2019. StoryFutures' work generated immediate economic impact for Focal Point as well as far reaching benefits to culture and the economy. By working with StoryFutures on the solution, Focal Point VR were also able to access £10,000 HEIF funding to work with a BAFTA-award winning director at Royal Holloway as well as employ sound design graduates and in-kind support of £5,000 from Magic Leap. This commission alone therefore increased turnover by 76%, but it also introduced new skills in live action drama and sound production to their company. For both The National Gallery and Focal Point, the end result was the ability to test both an AR and a VR version of the same experience with real visitors at the Gallery. This enabled rich audience insight into visitor's preferences for technologies, experiences and their emotional responses. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact As a consequence, The National Gallery is now preparing to invest more in the prototype to roll it out for a full-scale exhibition in Winter 2019-20: this will lead to further commercial investment in Focal Point. Focal Point VR are now taking part in our accelerator programme, have been invited to showcase Virtual Veronese at SXSW and potentially Heathrow, and continue to work closely with our team on business model innovation. This case study demonstrates the way in which a single engagement with StoryFutures is having multiple economic impacts but it has also had a demonstrable high-profile cultural impact as indicated by the reference in the Dept of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport's policy paper, Culture is Digital (2019), which notes the importance or StoryFutures in establishing a Innovation Lab at the Gallery: "The National Gallery is preparing to launch of its Innovation space, National Gallery X, and partnered with StoryFutures to create an audience experience that puts one of the great masterpieces by Veronese back in its historical context." Moreover, as the Gallery's Head of Digital, Lawrence Chiles attests, the StoryLab model introduced innovation and new suppliers into the Gallery's supply chain that would simply not have been possible otherwise. 
URL https://www.storyfutures.com/showcase/virtual-veronese
 
Description All details of currentn progress are contained in our annual report and CICP quarterly monitoring submissions. These are available via links at the end of this director's statement:

2021 has been another incredibly successful year for StoryFutures and our partners. We have become a 'go to' source for R&D funding, collaboration and investment for creative industries and seen our short term outcomes translate into mid-term benefits and impacts. Significantly our work has seen over £2.7m industry investment directly into R&D projects into the creative Cluster economy because of SF in 2021. A further £1.4 million has been leveraged as follow on investment, helping companies take prototypes directly to market. This £4.1m is almost equivalent to our entire industry investment KPI across 4 years of the cluster, and brings our total over 3 years so far to: £XXm [Moira to provide]

We have also launched new initiatives and collaborations, taking on our largest R&D challenges yet. With The National Gallery and in partnership with Brunel University of London, Tongji and the Shanghai Natural History Museum, we launched StoryFutures China - a £175,000 StoryLab challenge. Based on learnings from previous innovation programmes in the use of immersive in the Gallery and sector, we sought to create an immersive experience that tied together the Gallery's permanent collection. With our Chinese partners a child-led approach became a quick priority for cultural exchange and, with the appointment of Arcade as our StoryLab winning SME, we have developed a full MVP to launch in the NG and Shanghai this Spring. The Keeper of Paintings, a magical AR experience for children, will form part of an international format to enable cultural institutions globally to share a platform that encourages family visitors to understand the important cultural preservation role cultural institutions play in our societies. The quality of Keeper of Paintings has led to the NG agreeing to host the experience on site for a minimum of 12months, allowing 1,000s of families and children to benefit from the CICP R&D programme and, for Arcade, an IP model for exporting immersive experiences.

Alongside StoryFutures China we have also completed one other StoryLab with Roald Dahl Children's Charity and 17 smaller scale R&D on Demand projects, investing over £XX,XXX directly into SMEs within the cluster. In addition, we have supported 3 prototypes to full product with 3 x prototypes Valkyrie launching their Agril tool with the support of private investment; Focal Point launching Virtual Veronese with the National Gallery and Austella working with Costa on coffee cup blockchain recycling system BURT. Our audience insight and business modelling work has led to two industry report publications in partnership, with the former partnered by the BFI. Oveall our audience work has continued apace, with the grant from EM3 supporting the development of TEstXR as a remote audience testing platform for immersive creators. Over 2,000 users are now on the site with companies applying directly for support to work on the platform including Factory42 and Sky's Lost Origin as well as the BBC's Green Planet: both of which have been selected for SXSW.

Finally, in partnership with StoryFutures Academy, StoryFutures won one of ten DCMS commissions for UnBoxed: Creativity in the UK. StoryTrails is a £7m project brings together the BFI, Niantic, the BBC, local SMEs Nexus Studios and ProduceUK, as well as ISO Design, Uplands Television and The Reading Agency for the UK's largest ever immersive storytelling project. Ambitiously reanimating BFI and BBC archive across different immersive platforms, StoryFutures will deliver 9 x VR projects produced by cluster SMEs and RHUL academics as part of a UK national tour that will bring immersive storytelling to culturally underserved audiences. This puts StoryFutures and its SME partners on a national stage with the prospect of generating one of the largest ever immersive audience data sets across AR, VR and immersive installation. Finally, as part of StoryTrails the 9 x VR projects will each facilitate a paid-placement for diverse creatives to take part in the production, linking innovation, R&D and diversity.

With the delivery of StoryTrails scheduled through to October 2022 and a final programme of work in Virtual Production and immersive Health to commence, coupled with some ongoing delays from Covid19 restrictions, StoryFutures have applied for a no-cost extension until August 2023 to enable final delivery, monitoring and reporting.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gw28mj4uoe88eza/KPIs%20%20Oct%2C%20Nov%20%26%20Dec%2021%20V2.xlsx?dl=0
Exploitation Route Our TestXR audience insight platform has acted as a key gateway for SMEs and large organisations to work with us, including Factory42, Sky, BBC, and a range of small players.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail,Transport

URL http://www.storyfutures.com/creative-cluster
 
Description Our activities have multiple impacts, some of which have been unexpected across a range of economic, social and cultural activities, and policy guidance announcements. Our StoryLab model has seen large organisations (StoryLab challenge setters) invest over £500,000 in leverage to foster R&D collaborations that provide both SMEs and challenge setters rich audience insight. Moreover, it has both introduced new suppliers and innovation into large organisations' supply chains (see National Gallery and Heathrow case studies) as well as brokered new collaborations between SMEs. StoryLab's open- innovation model enables SMEs to learn from each other as they pitch their ideas in an open forum and explore the difficulties and advantages inherent within each other's solutions to the Challenges. 50 new products, services, and experiences (including new IP) have been created, including audience facing prototypes at Heathrow and The National Gallery. £1,563,313 has been invested by creative SMEs participating across all our R&D programmes, as leverage including in-kind. Link to 2021 annual report (submitted to AHRC): https://www.dropbox.com/s/vyg8lmnpngdflz9/StoryFutures%20Annual%20Report%202020%20-%202021.pdf?dl=0
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail,Transport
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

 
Description StoryFutures - National Gallery impact
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact As a consequence, of Virtual Veronese project within StoryFutures The National Gallery is now preparing to invest more in the prototype to roll it out for a full-scale exhibition in Winter 2019-20: this will lead to further commercial investment in Focal Point. Focal Point VR are now taking part in our accelerator programme, have been invited to showcase Virtual Veronese at SXSW and potentially Heathrow, and continue to work closely with our team on business model innovation. This case study demonstrates the way in which a single engagement with StoryFutures is having multiple economic impacts but it has also had a demonstrable high-profile cultural impact as indicated by the reference in the Dept of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport's policy paper, Culture is Digital (2019), which notes the importance or StoryFutures in establishing a Innovation Lab at the Gallery: "The National Gallery is preparing to launch of its Innovation space, National Gallery X, and partnered with StoryFutures to create an audience experience that puts one of the great masterpieces by Veronese back in its historical context." Moreover, as the Gallery's Head of Digital, Lawrence Chiles attests, the StoryLab model introduced innovation and new suppliers into the Gallery's supply chain that would simply not have been possible otherwise.
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/culture-is-digital/culture-is-digital
 
Title Data for 2 experiments on VR and Extroversion 
Description Data for the studies discussed in the manuscript entitled "The impact of audience-size on the appeal of virtual reality, and how to offset this." 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Data_for_2_experiments_on_VR_and_Extroversion/16131219
 
Title Data for 2 experiments on VR and Extroversion 
Description Data for the studies discussed in the manuscript entitled "The impact of audience-size on the appeal of virtual reality, and how to offset this." 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Data_for_2_experiments_on_VR_and_Extroversion/16131219/1