Shaun the Sheep: Immersive Experience

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Architecture


Proposed Activity:
Our aim is to deliver a world-first in research innovation (i.e. technical, methodological, creative application) that will transform the delivery of Aardman's high-end animation work (Shaun the Sheep) from a currently linear and pre-rendered end-user product (e.g. TV/cinema screen-based) into a non-linear, real-time, responsive, spatially immersive experience; one that can be enjoyed by a wide (family) audience in China (without the need for headsets, gloves or pre-rendered animation) whilst recognising China's cultural context and values in the realisation of this work.

Rationale and Research/Industry Context:
The animation market is increasingly challenged by changes in media consumption and modes of distribution. This innovation will focus on the development of shared experiences for the family entertainment market that will turn the passive observers of screen-based storytelling into active participants. We will create a novel digital-physical spatial experience that embodies the spirit, ethos and participatory nature of games, built around interaction, responsiveness and immersion. With the global games audience estimated between 2.2 and 2.6 billion (UKIE), and a significant number of these in China, we believe that this project will catalyse the development of transformative approaches to engaging animation audiences in novel, and more participatory, experiences.

Research Aim:
This research links three significant domains of knowledge in the family entertainment market which can be expressed as a simple equation: Audience + Animation + Space + Games Technology = narrative, interactive, spatial experiences. Facilitating this, the project will combine research and creative practice expertise from the fields of animation, architecture, creative media arts, theatrical arts, engineering, AI and robotics as well as gaming.

Combining immersive spaces with real-time audio-visual content has precedence, predominantly within media art installations, however, our audience-focussed, spatially immersive, and responsive approach to storytelling differs substantially from what we might have called in the past "immersive cinema". Furthermore, due to the application of a quasi-intelligent system (supported by AI) we are developing new territories for Aardman and the wider animation sector.

By combining the "scalability" of film/animation with the "intimacy" and responsiveness of immersive experiences, we are seeking to redefine the term "mixed reality" (as a family experience with no headsets, no gloves and no mobile phones), providing a scalable concept that could generate significant impact within and beyond the creative industry sector. In the context of this project, we are calling our approach "responsive cinema".

Research Questions & Methodology:
Our research raises critical practice-based research questions in the following six areas: WP1 Story & Conceptional Realisation; WP2 Dynamic Content Creation; WP3 Game & Interaction Design; WP4 AI & Sensoring; WP5 Target Audience; WP6 Space Integration - all of which will require a uniquely tailored, interdisciplinary methodological approach.

Planned Impact

a. Creation of a new Joint UK-China Lab:
This project will enable a new collaboration between three academic partners; the University of Liverpool (UoL), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and the Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA) and the Industry partners (Aardman, Media Industry Association and Digital Fun). This links up six research centres/institutes, utilising their complementary expertise for an applied research project with high level industry partners.

b. Offering new Business Services:
Our project will develop a series of innovations that will be of value to the wider screen and animation industries, including the use of 'real-time' games engines for immersive animation experiences, the application of artificial intelligence for creating dynamic experiences and the spatial interpretation of screen-based media experiences.

c. Engaging Beneficiary Groups across Industry and Academia
Our publishing and dissemination plan (book; journal articles; film; conference) will be organised in partnership with Immerse UK and its network to ensure the project has impact within academia and the creative industries.

d. Market Implementation and Knowledge Transfer
Immerse UK will assist us in reaching out to further UK companies to ensure it has impact for UK creative industry stakeholders and policy makers. They will also help in identifying implementation and knowledge transfer opportunities from our research in the emerging immersive marketplace.

a. UK Business Impact Abroad
The project offers a global commercial opportunity in line with the UK Government's Industrial Strategy concerning the development and exploitation of immersive content and technologies. Our direct route to economic impact will be through collaboration with Aardman on a piece of research innovation for which, as our previous research (AHRC Network Grant) has shown, there is considerable demand in China.

b. Securing UK Business Investment
We have already established links to large investors in the culture/entertainment/tourism sector (e.g. China Media Capital (CMC); Dingsheng Cultural Investment Company; Shanghai Yorkie Investment Management Co.Ltd.; Zhejiang Cultural Tourism Investment Group; Shanxi Cultural Tourism Group), some of whom already show a commitment to bringing the IP/results of our research to market.

c. UK Family Entertainment Sector Impact
Aardman is a flagship company for a much wider sector in the UK, focusing on stories and animations for children and families - a sector for which the UK is known globally. Operating at an international level with global partners, an ambitious project like this will likely act as a catalyst for other screen-entertainment companies to embrace new forms of storytelling in a spatial environment.

This project enables high level technical and research expertise to innovatively fuse animations, games technology, spatial design, experience design, computer science and theatre practices in order to generate new real-time applications for immersive experiences. It is anticipated that this inter-disciplinary approach will lead to both creative and technical innovation that carries new IPs in ways that are relevant for a wide range of screen-based animation/entertainment companies and audiences.

Liverpool has a deeply established relationships and partnerships with Shanghai; they are twinned cities since 1999 and both UoL and LJMU have strategic links at both a teaching and research level (e.g., the UoL's joint university in Suzhou (XJTLU). This project offers an opportunity for these links to be extended into meaningful creative industry collaboration. Our project is also about the translation of British humour and the UK animation industry's distinctive style for a Chinese audience, which has important cross-cultural implications.


10 25 50
Description The award is ongoing, but we are beginning to see that we are developing a new story world matrix for a new type of immersive visitor experience, which is new. Furthermore, our work with Aardman is leading to entirely new kind workflow for this kind of production.
Exploitation Route Aardman might develop this work into a new type of visitor experience.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description We are creating a new way to tell Aardman stories, meaning the workflow and output is chaining; both likely to lead to professional and potentially later economic impact.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Title VR Barn Simulation 
Description We have created a bespoke realtime VR simulation of a barn with certain dimensions and content that can simulate a physical location based experience. The model is necessary to understand our narrative and design implications and can be used for user tests. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model is constantly refined and can be used for user testing, giving us and Aardman important information as to what potential problems and solutions we can develop to create a seamless immersive experience in China. 
Description Public lecture: The History and Future of Immersive Experiences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact To be filled out at at later stage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Story Workshop with Shanghai Theatre Academy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact About 10 members from the Shanghai Theatre Academy attended our workshop with Aardman animation. We discussed the story development for Chinese audiences in a particular cultural context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description UK-China Creative Partnerships Workshop June 21 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The UK-China Creative Partnerships Workshop was an event led by UKRI aimed as creating an exchange between academics and industry partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021