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Here’s what you missed at SXSW…

Posted 30 Mar 2023

Couldn’t make it to Austin? Here’s what you missed at SXSW 2023…

Over the past few years Northern Ireland has become a leading player in the immersive industry. Its growing reputation is thanks to the diverse range of companies, individuals, and organisations who are pushing the boundaries of virtual and augmented reality technology. 

Earlier this month Nigel McAlpine, Digital Catapult Northern Ireland’s Lead Immersive Technologist, headed to Austin to showcase Northern Ireland’s immersive production capabilities at SXSW’s UK House and let us in on everything we needed to know. Couldn’t make it to Texas? Read on to find out what you missed“I would encourage you to become

familiar with the unfamiliar…” said Hugh Forrest in his opening remarks at this year’s SXSW. 

Challenge accepted. 

Much of the content in the panels, discussions and installations at SXSW were artificial intelligence (AI) themed and driven, and all being used in the creative technology sphere. This is familiar territory for Digital Catapult, having run a number of AI and creative technology accelerators over the past ten years. Despite our familiarity with these topics it was still incredibly useful to understand how these technologies are finding increasing convergence in the modern world and what the potential impact of this will be.  

This ‘convergence’ of technologies that ran through the heart of SXSW 2023 encapsulates  Digital Catapult’s focus on accelerating digital adoption through our Cyber Physical Infrastructure, and ‘Virtualisation’ work. 

Convergence is increasingly vital for the development and progression of emerging technologies such as AI, 5G, quantum, digital twins and the metaverse so these technologies aren’t thought of and applied in isolation. 

It’s important to think of the tech stack as having compatible, inter-linking layers in this space – not silos. That’s where technology will really make a difference.

Northern Ireland Takes Centre Stage 

Northern Ireland’s growing role in the creative technology sector was on display at SXSW, even before getting to UK House. The new Dungeons and Dragons film premiered in Austin, a timely reminder that elements of this film were shot in facilities at the Belfast Harbour Studio complex. 

This year, in partnership with Belfast City Council and the Department for Business and Trade at the UK House, Nigel McApline brought together a superb lineup featuring two talks that exemplify the talent and successes coming out of Northern Ireland in the creative industries… 

The Trouble with Creativity and Technology…Which Drives Which?

The first session featured three very different but pioneering women from NI who have pivoted from traditional creative art forms to embrace emerging technology. In order to reach new audiences and drive innovation in business, these pioneers have combined traditional art forms and technology to innovate around themes linked to MedTech, wellbeing and the conflict in Northern Ireland. 

Ballet dancer turned Medtech entrepreneur Naomi McGregor, CEO of Movetru, is developing a ‘wearable fitbit’ for lower limb rehabilitation. Having flown in from New York and due to fly out to another business meeting in Philadelphia, she found the investor meetup part of SXSW invaluable.


And talking of US touring, Zoe Seaton and Gavin Peden from Big Telly Theatre Company brought their powerful 360 Video VR experience called ‘The House’, which examines the transgenerational effect of the Troubles, to SXSW, were invited to San Antonio and Houston, Texas Academic institutions – in addition to having an audience with the Counsel General of Ireland in Austin – to discuss their work around peacebuilding and the arts.

Also taking part in this session was Deep Mann-kler, Neon Artist turned XR evangelist. She was thankful for the ecosystem in Northern Ireland, which gives artists the freedom to tell stories, and cited organisations like NI Screen, Future Screens NI and Digital Catapult NI as key influences in unlocking funding and mentorship which have greatly helped her on her journey to curating the first ever Belfast International XR Festival. 


Virtual Production: Guerrillas and Mandalorians: Taming the Global Virtual Production Monster. 

The second discussion centred on how Northern Ireland is producing homegrown production skills and world class-facilities for the global virtual production sector by harnessing young talent eager to deploy guerrilla-style ‘break it to fix’ thinking. 

This new way of thinking is helping to overcome the virtual production pipeline skills gap while also attracting Hollywood’s virtual production elite to Northern Ireland. New cutting-edge facilities like Studio Ulster are making Northern Ireland the best possible environment for the next generation of immersive content to be produced at a world class standard. 

The Studio Ulster facility is a £72 million investment in a large-scale virtual production studio complex in Belfast, which will include world-class commercial virtual production stages, fully supported by an integrated R&D&I Centre of Excellence in real-time and virtual production. 

120323-UKHouseDay2-10The UK House at SXSW was joined by inspirational ‘guerillas’ Josh, Sinead and Eva from Aura Studios, and Declan Keeney, Professor of Screen Technologies & Innovation, and Director of Research, Development & Innovation at Studio Ulster.

The discussion honed in on the amazing opportunities coming to Northern Ireland and the ability of that part of the world to develop such a breadth of fantastic creative industries talent; Aura Digital is working with Industrial Light And Magic (ILM) and Epic Games to hone their virtual production skills thanks to FutureScreens NI and StoryFutures Academy, a vital opportunity to ensure there is a healthy pipeline feeding into Studio Ulster. Aura also touched on its work to deliver the first ever fully virtually produced advert to be shot in Northern Ireland. 


Some Familiar Faces 

Outside of UK House it was great to see alumni of Digital Catapult’s acceleration programmes showcasing products and solutions created with support from our team of business and tech experts. 

It was exciting to see Alice Camera’s at SXSW; it’s the perfect place for the team to tap into an extensive network of creators, filmmakers, storytellers, and photographers. The recent release of the second version of its innovative AI camera designed specifically for content creators, meant Alice Camera’s participation in the event was particularly fitting given the overarching theme. Founder Vishal Kumar also took part in the SXSW Pitch 2023 competition, where Alice Camera was named a finalist in the Entertainment, Content, and Media section.

Fresh off Digital Catapult and Niantic’s showcase event, one of the UK’s leading creative reality agencies Arcade was there as well, showcasing its augmented reality experience ‘Bazaar’ to SXSW. ‘Bazaar’ was built during Digital Catapult’s flagship deeptech accelerator FutureScope, and at SXSW, attendees were able to hunt for ‘drops’ at some of Austin’s most iconic locations, collecting rewards from Niantic or UK House. 

We were thrilled to see both products and demonstrators built with the support of Digital Catapult’s innovation team at SXSW. Once again startups and creators from the UK were stealing the show. 

You can stay up to date with all of Digital Catapult’s cross-technology work here