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Digital Catapult looks back at the CreativeXR programme and its contribution to the arts and creative industries, using extended reality (XR) to realise new forms of art, storytelling and entertainment.

Digital Catapult and Arts Council England launched CreativeXR in September 2017, driven by the common mission of enabling new formats of content innovation and future-proofing the UK creative industries market.

CreativeXR is a 12-week acceleration programme for immersive creators in the arts, culture and entertainment sector. CreativeXR offers support for UK content creators to develop their early-stage concepts in virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive audio, haptics or any XR technology experience.

As a measure of the programme’s success, CreativeXR has financed and supported the development of 60 immersive prototypes by leading UK creators with £1.2 million and awarded production funding to 12 projects worth £850k. Many of these completed works have featured in major film and industry festivals, cultural venues and storefronts worldwide.

Successful releases of projects include the Dambusters VR Installation by All Seeing Eye, in which users physically step into history and relive a famous WWII bombing. This experience from the first cohort was released at the RAF museum as a separate ticketed experience, which was frequently visited before the Covid-19 pandemic.

CreativeXR are excited to have two projects launching on the Oculus Store later this year (Madrid Noir and Goliath), the prestigious platform which made £100m in content sales after its first year and was further made popular by the recent release of the Quest 2.

CreativeXR has a global reputation for the development opportunities it offers content creators, so competition is high among teams looking for selection. In the last three years, more than 3,000 teams registered an interest in the programme and over 800 applied, before being whittled down to just 20 teams for each cohort.

CreativeXR offers support for creators to experiment and to develop early-stage concepts, with access to industry mentors, workshops and use of the Digital Catapult Immersive Labs network.

Through its support network, CreativeXR advises teams on how to navigate the fragmented and ever-changing XR financing ecosystem, enabling them to successfully raise funding.

Over three completed cohorts, CreativeXR has supported creators from prototype funding through to funded projects.

Prototype funding

In phase 1, £20,000 is awarded to each selected team to create an immersive prototype of an experience. Over the last three cohorts, 60 teams have received £1,200,000 in prototype funding.

Over the 12-week programme, the aim is to experiment with creating immersive content that will inspire future audiences and push the boundaries of what the technology can offer.

CreativeXR Showcase and Market event

At the end of the programme, project teams demonstrate their prototypes at the CreativeXR Showcase and Market event. This event provides startups with the opportunity to pitch ideas to the top financiers and commissioners in the creative and immersive market from around the world. Past attendees have included Oculus, HTC Vive, Samsung, CNC, Intel, NFB Canada, Canada Media Fund, Venice Film Festival, SXSW, Tribeca Film Festival and Sandbox Immersive Festival.

Production funding

In phase 2, the final phase of the programme, project teams compete for production funding. In total, 12 projects on the CreativeXR programme have been granted production funding reaching £851,000, allowing them to build their prototypes into fully-fledged immersive experiences.

Across the first two cohorts, the total raised in industry match funding now stands at £1,323,520 and that figure continues to rise.

Recent match funders of CreativeXR projects include Epic Games, Oculus and international film and arts funds such as CNC and Canada Arts Council for projects working with international collaborators. Examples include No Ghost, who collaborated with french company Atlas V to produce the narrative interactive VR experience Madrid Noir, and Alexander Whitley Company who collaborated with the Canadian company Normal Studio to work on their dance project Future Rites, based on the famous Rite of Spring ballet.

Development Funding

In 2020 the following projects were awarded a total of £312,000 to further develop their virtual reality and audio experiences:

  • Showcased at the BFI, DAZZLE by Gibson/Martelli and Peut-Porter recreates the 1919 Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball at the Royal Albert Hall through an immersive VR experience in which audience members can dance with performers.
  • Eulogy by Darkfield, a multisensory theatre production exploring the act of conscious dreaming, immersing each audience member into a dreamlike, labyrinthine hotel imagined in complete darkness.
  • Madrid Noir by No Ghost and Atlas V is a 40-minute, interactive detective VR that transports audiences to the bustling streets of 1920’s Madrid. The piece will be premiering at Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021 and launch on the Oculus store later in 2021.
  • Goliath by Anagram is an animated VR narrative based on the real-life story of Jon, a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who, following a decade of isolation in psychiatric institutions, found a lifeline in online multiplayer gaming. Goliath will be released on the Oculus Store later in 2021.

A showcase for the UK creative industries and immersive content creators.

Several projects have received nominations and awards for the immersive experiences they built during the CreativeXR programme, with recognition from:

  • Internationally recognised film festivals, such as the Tribeca Film Festival and Venice Film Festival
  • Industry events, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Sandbox Immersive Festival (SIF)
  • UK audiences, including the Raindance Film Festival and the National Television Awards, through to cultural experiences such as The Dambusters installation at the RAF Museum

Future-proofing the UK creative industry.

As audiences discover the power of immersive, CreativeXR has continued to support the industry, developing new distribution models and upskilling creators across the UK.

For many cohort companies, CreativeXR enabled the development of new business models and access to new funding streams, boosting growth and company turnover.

Many of the cohort companies from a creative background had minimal prior experience in immersive but pivoted their business models to include more examples of immersive technologies in their work and portfolio.

Nearly every cohort company in the programme has established new partnerships and collaborations across all industries from digital technology and creative to education, government, healthcare and the charity sector.

For example, Interplay Theatre are now looking away from standard theatre business models and instead at expanding and growing business through new open markets. The aim is to achieve this by focusing on producing immersive work that could be purchased internationally on platforms such as Oculus Store and the Vive Market.

Another way that CreativeXR future proofs the creative industries is evolving how content is delivered. Following the pandemic during the last open call closing in May 2020, many creators re-developed their experiences so that audiences could view them from the safety of their own home. This included the episodic film noir augmented reality pop-up book Story Portals by Yonder Beyond and the AR theatre piece #Corptopia delivered through video conferencing tools, as well as the sci-fi piece Beth’s Legacy which has been delivered through a brand new platform called The Transportalist, involving a tabletop stage delivered to the user’s home involving multi-modal streaming, projection and AR.

CreativeXR partners and supporters

CreativeXR is a partnership between Digital Catapult and Arts Council England as part of its vision to progress content-led research and development projects in the creative industries.

In the past three years, the programme has been backed up by a support network of industry experts, high calibre peers and commissioning bodies, with recent supporters including:

  • Epic Games: awarding the Epic MegaGrant in 2020 to develop projects built using Epic’s Unreal Engine.
  • StoryFutures Academy: bringing narrative storytelling expertise to mentor companies in story development, design and continuing narrative.
  • The BFI: looking to seek out and support the next generation of filmmakers, as distributors of National Lottery funds for film.
  • RYOT Studio: the branded content XR studio at Verizon Media. As a sponsor of CreativeXR in 2019, RYOT Studio looked to develop and demo new XR content experiences to inspire brands to embrace immersive storytelling.

In 2020 CreativeXR was also joined by 39 community partners to promote diversity and inclusion within the industry, to help deliver a bigger impact and build a stronger immersive community.

More details on CreativeXR partners and supporters can be found here

Realising new forms of art, storytelling and entertainment.

Looking back on the last three years, CreativeXR cohorts share their experience on the programme:

(Hi)story of a Painting by Fat Red Bird is an animated VR and 360 series aimed at engaging young audiences with art by creating conversational experiences focused on the human stories behind some of the world’s most famed art. Episode one received its world premiere at SXSW 2021.

“Without the CreativeXR Programme, we wouldn’t have been able to make our pilot. The support, both financial and in kind, allowed us to access a professional network that not only enriched our project, but also our skills and careers as XR makers. Everyone on the programme was extremely supportive and gave us the tools to succeed. We couldn’t have asked for better and highly recommend future applicants to go for it!” Gaelle Moure – (Hi)Story of a Painting

When Something Happens by Boom Clap Play uses poetry, immersive arts and a beautiful soundtrack to take you on a journey through the history of the Universe. Boom Clap Play was displayed at the Orion festival in Australia where it was shortlisted for best Virtual Reality piece.

“We only truly started just before CreativeXR – having the income to work on a project was hugely beneficial. In addition, we had to talk to people and be more professional. It gave us the focus to take ourselves more seriously.” David Baxter – Boom Clap Play

A Symphony of Noise by Up Creatives received £30k from Creative Europe Media and £20K from Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung to further develop a prototype. A Symphony of Noise is an immersive art installation made of seven immersive audio-reactive scenes.

“Our voice became louder after the prototype. CreativeXR raised our profile and validated us. We now have a case study to back up our tenders and pitch work in the commercial sector.”

“We now encourage our clients to approach projects in a structure similar to that of the CreativeXR programme.” Jamie Balliu – Up Creatives