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New £300k virtual studio to bring students’ creative vision to life

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Published on 16 August 2021

Craig Moore (left) and Kieran Phillips in the new virtual studio
Craig Moore (left) and Kieran Phillips in the new virtual studio

Work is now complete on a new 4K-UHD virtual studio at the University of Sunderland.

Installed at the University’s David Puttnam Media Centre at the Sir Tom Cowie Campus, St Peter’s, the new facility will give students the opportunity to gain practical experience in latest-generation virtual studio production techniques.

The £300,000 system includes a Mo-Sys StarTracker Studio with a camera tracking unit, wireless-linked handheld StarTracker Viewfinder and high-grade green-screen walls and flooring.

Craig Moore, Senior TV Technician at the University of Sunderland, said: “We wanted to be able to offer something other universities currently can’t. The success of The Mandalorian television series, and the publicity about how it was created, opened our eyes to the process of live virtual production.

“Our hope was to replicate a similar type of setup which would position our university at the forefront of this new production method within the higher education sector. With this new system we can create large sets at no cost and turn our studios into anything our students can think of.

“This investment will also help us forge new relationships with external companies, whether it be production companies, football clubs and the local council. The main aim is to give our students every advantage possible for when they graduate and help them gain employment in their chosen field.”

The StarTracker camera tracking system was recently used on the BBC coverage of the Tokyo Olympics and in its Match of the Day programmes.

Kieran Phillips is project manager at CJP Broadcast, the company behind the installation.

“StarTracker is an exceptionally stable tracking technology based on small reflective stars which are randomly applied to the studio ceiling,” he explained.

“The stars are hardly visible to the naked eye. An unobtrusive LED element on the camera shines light on the stars, defining the star map which allows StarTracker to report position, rotation and lens data accurately and in real-time. Once calibrated, the system is fully automatic and starts tracking after being powered on, and because StarTracker is always referencing itself to its star map, its position is absolute and drift-free.”

Professor Arabella Plouviez is Academic Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at the University.

She said: “The investment into our new virtual studio at the Media Centre opens up a whole new level of creative opportunities for students from across the faculty.

“The green hue of the new space can be digitally manipulated into any kind of environment – real or imagined – for film, TV, animation or photography. It will enable our students to really innovate with technology still so new that the possibilities are still uncharted. This is an exciting new area for us to be leading in.”

Lee Hall, Head of the University’s School of Media and Communications, said: “This investment in virtual production is great news for our students, who will have the opportunity to experiment and innovate with cutting edge technology.

“We want our students to have the tools to realise their creative vision, with the support of expert staff. This technology provides a powerful way to bring content to life and scale up their ambitions.

“The fact it can bring together production specialists, performers, animators and even coders opens up even more exciting collaborations. I can’t wait to see the results.”

Chris Phillips, managing director at CJP Broadcast, added: “This is the latest in a series of projects we have completed for the university sector.

“We are fully confident that the system we have built in partnership with Craig and his colleagues will provide both the theoretical understanding and practical skills graduates need to succeed in the modern world of media creativity.”