Introducing the R&D Seed Funding Award Winners

  • StoryFutures
  • April 15th 2021

We are excited to announce the winners of our recent call for R&D Seed Funding projects. The programme brings together creative SMEs and academic experts to collaborate on developing new, blue-sky ideas for immersive experiences, products and services. The seven winning SMEs are: BB Studio, Constance & Co, Dynaimx, Furness Films, Spilt Milk Studio, Trajectory Theatre, and Unit 9.

The companies will work with Academic Partners on early-stage concepts and prototypes building towards future funding and commercial development opportunities. The projects cover a wide range of topics, introducing new ways to learn, create and play with innovative applications of AR, VR, AI and haptic technologies.

The projects will run during spring 2021 culminating in a showcase this summer. SMEs will benefit from academic expertise, support from the EM3 creative tech booster fund, and IP for ideas, products, services, or technology developed in the project. Each project will receive £4,000 in cash funding going to the SME.

Please read on to find out more about each project.

BB Studio: Colonisation of Mars

From left to right: Bushra Burge, Dr. Rachael Squire, Professor Peter Adey & Dr. Rikke Bjerg Jensen

Bushra Burge is an award-winning entrepreneur and the founder and creative director of BB Studio, a purpose-driven creative innovation company that focuses on engaging and considered ways to tell stories using the newest technology impactfully.

SME Lead: Bushra Burge

Academic Partners: Dr. Rachael Squire (Geography), Professor Peter Adey (Geography), and Dr. Rikke Bjerg Jensen (Information Security), Royal Holloway, University of London

From Mars One’s mission to create human settlements to Elon Musk’s ideas around sustainable Martian cities, there is an ever-growing interest in colonising the red planet.

This project will research immersive sci-fi narratives within a virtual biosphere to set a context to learn about the application of sustainable and ethical practices particularly within fashion and textiles and how to live in a closed system. There is a focus on multicultural voices and diverse audiences to challenge conventions of this highly underrepresented area of storytelling, gaming genre, and scientific field.

This VR experience will have accompanying interactive costumes based on grown garment concepts to complete and enhance the narrative. The broad research gained will be used as a reference for escape room style games for future BB Studio developments.

Constance & Co: The Timebox Project

Left: Gael McLaughlin, Right: Prof Harriet Hawkins

Constance & Co is a start-up creative production company led by Gael McLaughlin who has worked as a producer and creative in TV, film, and digital for over a decade. Many of the stories they tell have a focus on the environment, equality, and sustainability delivered with warmth, humour, and wonder.

SME Lead: Gael McLaughlin

Academic Partner: Professor Harriet Hawkins (Geography), Royal Holloway, University of London

Constance & Co in collaboration with Harriet Hawkins will create an exciting gamified treasure hunt experience based on exploring what lies beneath our feet.

Using real-world data, AR, VR and binaural soundscapes the project will deliver an immersive multifaceted journey transporting audiences deep into the world’s ancient geographical history.

The technology will be designed to be extremely adaptable, creating many opportunities for storytelling and educational journeys across a wide range of sectors and topics.

Dynaimx: 4DNaturalMedia: Accessible software for 4D immersive story creation

Left: Christopher Johnson, Right: Dr. Jeremiah Ambrose

Dynaimx is a software design company that brings together decades of experience in immersive software development and outreach. With a strong background in science, art, and computing the team members have worked together on a wide variety of projects developing quality software for high profile customers, including the UK Space Agency, Miami Children’s Hospital and Royal Brompton Hospital.

SME Lead: Christopher Johnson

Academic Partner: Dr. Jeremiah Ambrose (School of Fine Art), University for the Creative Arts

Dynaimx’s immersive creativity software allows hand-drawn images, analogue photographs or other digital imagery to be transformed into digital 3D objects and virtual environments rapidly and intuitively, while maintaining the unique artistic features of the original natural media images. This software bridges the gap between highly technical 3D modelling software and non-technical creatives.

This project will work with a group of students who will become ‘Creative Elements’ in the immersive story creation process and through the inclusion of written dialogue within the 3D scenes, will create new forms of storytelling. By hyperlinking multiple virtual environments together, this R&D project will be expanded to form a digital collaboration that manifests as a type of “Story Universe” built on individual experience and creativity, but collectively becoming a tapestry that adds an entirely new macro level to the storytelling potential of the software.

Furness Films: Transition Buddy

Left: Avril Furness, Right: Dr. Joel Harvey

Furness Films was set up in 2017 by Avril Furness, an Virtual Reality, 360 Film producer, director, and creative, producing internationally recognised and award-winning interactive Virtual Reality films. Her work has been showcased with WIRED, The World Economic Forum in Davos, and other world stages and festivals globally.

SME Lead: Avril Furness

Academic Partner: Dr. Joel Harvey (Law and Criminology), Royal Holloway, University of London

Working collaboratively alongside Dr. Joel Harvey Furness Films will explore the idea of creating a ‘Transition Buddy’ - an AI avatar companion and digital survival tool kit for young people transitioning out of care.

In this application, they will focus on the idea of 'moving towards independence' and consult with young people from the National House Project who've made this move to think with us about how we might use AI technology to assist in this transitional process.

They are looking to create a supportive application in the form of a digital avatar that encourages progression of the individual young person transiting out of care (both in psychological, emotional and practical terms) into adulthood.

Spilt Milk Studios: Depth of Field to guide attention in VR

Left: Andrew J Smith, Right: Dr. Szonya Durant

Spilt Milk Studios is a multi-award-winning independent game developer based in Farringdon, London. With over a decade of experience shipping games across multiple genres, platforms & technologies, they're focused on making games with heart and are devoted to building them with people from as diverse a background as possible.

SME Lead: Andrew J Smith

Academic Partner: Dr. Szonya Durant (Psychology) Royal Holloway, University of London

Spilt Milk Studios are excited to be building a method for testing the use of Depth of Field to affect user attention in real-time 3D.

Targeting Unreal Engine initially, they will focus on how the research can be used to refine the methods used by games designers around the world to influence their players, directing attention and improving not just their experience of the game, but the quality of the final product, the processes used to build it, and the efficiency of the underlying technology.

Trajectory Theatre: ioSpan

From left to right: Roderick Morgan, Dr. Anica Zayen & Professor Tamar Pincus

Trajectory Theatre’s mission is to demonstrate the power of immersive digital art and to empower those who wish to use it to express their experiences of the world. Their work explores the interstice between traditional theatre practice and emergent technology, focusing on interpersonal connection, the future of the digital era, and challenging notions of reality through perception.

SME Lead: Roderick Morgan

Academic partners: Dr. Anica Zeyen (Management) and Professor Tamar Pincus (Psychology), Royal Holloway, University of London

IO-span is a tool that allows disabled people to easily tell their story to audiences through an accessible, immersive journey. It consists of a framework where makers can input structured media that reflects their lived experience, this is then accessed via a mobile app by the audience. The app is explored collectively, with groups of any size in a single location, with each person being able to toggle specific accessibility features on their own device. A custom-built AI then builds the experience in real-time based on the needs of the audience

Unit 9: Matilde: The use of ray tracing in an immersive narrative

(Left: Peter Bathurst, Right: Armando Garcia)

Unit 9 is an award-winning global Agency & Production partner that creates innovative content and experiences with love. Built from an extraordinary team of skilled strategists, innovation architects, product designers, software engineers, gaming experts, art directors, producers and film directors. Unit9 was AdAge Production Company of the Year, 2019 & Campaign’s Tech Company of the Year 2020

SME Lead: Peter Bathurst

Academic partner: Armando Garcia (Media Arts), Royal Holloway, University of London.

This collaboration is developing Mathilde: a 360 environment that leads us into the story of Mathilde Schoenberg in Vienna 1908. Wife of avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg and lover of family friend and painter Richard Gerstl. We explore Gerstl’s abandoned studio to piece together the dramatic events that led to him taking his life.

Mathilde will combine the latest ray-tracing technologies with the Unreal Engine to offer a new approach to narrative experiences of this kind. Concentrating on creating supremely realistic environments and objects the experience aims to challenge preconceptions of how typical museum and heritage narratives are shared.

Intertwining the latest immersive technologies with conventional media formats to bring these three compelling narrative strands to life.

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