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Wimbledon students to showcase cutting-edge digital performance technology at Tate Exchange

Written by Sarah McLean
Published date 02 March 2020

Wimbledon students will showcase cutting edge technology for performance at Tate Modern from 3-8 March as part of Uni to Unicorns, a Tate Exchange event with the Digital Maker Collective.

Students from across the performance courses will be resident at Tate for the week-long event in an open immersive production studio where the public can experience and learn more about their experimentation with technology including volumetric video, a technique that captures a three-dimensional space, such as a location or performance.

Since November 2019, academics, technical staff and 27 second year students from BA Production Arts for Screen in both the Set Design for Screen and Technical Arts and Special Effects pathways have worked on a pilot collaboration to explore this technology with Dimension, a world-leading volumetric and 3D capture studio, based in Wimbledon, London.

A group of people in a green screen room surrounded by large white square lights.
Wimbledon students at Dimension Studios. - Credit: Chris Follows

Using 2 texts from Shakespeare's The Tempest and an interpretation of a performance script by writer Sibusiso Mamba entitled Tom's List, the students developed concept designs, sketches, concept art, character designs, Sketchup models and miniatures, producing prototypes for immersive experiences using virtual reality (VR) and volumetric video capture.

Esther Armstrong, Programme Director, Performance and Design Technologies and her team have been working with the groups. “So far we've seen everything from Elizabethan artefacts, costumes and idealised Venetian rooms to experiences of storms, fantasy islands, Greek Muses and murder-mystery style graphic novels” she said.

“It's been amazing to see how quickly and professionally the students have responded to the challenges set by the Dimension staff and have been inspired by the range of the company's work such as Britannia VR for Sky and virtual Vikings for Ridley Scott Creative Group, and how the students have really engaged with this new way of working through experiencing the Dimension team's professional processes.”

Steve Jelley, Co-Founder and Joint Managing Director at Dimension and who worked with Wimbledon students, said, “At Dimension we’re lucky enough to help shape the future of immersive theatre by using the latest digital and volumetric techniques. It’s been incredible to watch Wimbledon’s performance art students adopt these practices - and produce work of such outstanding quality. It’s a great experience for our staff to teach at such an outstanding institution and it gives us real hope that the skills gap identified in our industry by Immerse UK can be addressed in such a short amount of time. It just needs companies like us to engage!”

A man in a red hat helps a woman in a grey cardigan with a virtual reality headset. In the background is a woman also using virtual reality technology.
The Digital Maker Collective's Tate Exchange event in 2019. - Credit: Dan Weill Photography

For the Tate Exchange event, students will be ‘artists in residence’ in a mini-studio, making and workshopping their ideas on site as well as demonstrating their current designs. Esther Armstrong explained: “The idea is to show how productive and exciting the art of physical making and design operates, and how it then translates to a 3D digital, immersive experience. It's a good example of how an arts institution, like Wimbledon College of Arts and UAL, can embrace production techniques of real studios, and how quickly the students were able to embrace the new best practice of studios. That's what makes this Tate Exchange week so exciting to be involved in.”

The Tate event will also be the first time that students and staff have experienced a location-based immersive performance production. Dimension and the National Theatre (NT) will run 3 performances an hour of All Kinds of Limbo, an original piece of music and performance using cutting edge VR technology to craft the staging which was especially commissioned in response to the NT’s production of Small Island.

Designed for between 16 and 20 people at a time, all participants will collectively experience the immersive performance together in VR. This will present an opportunity for staff and students to learn how a full immersive production like this works with the public.

A group of people lean over a table taking part in a group activity. In the background more people are walking through a large gallery space.
The Digital Maker Collective's Tate Exchange event in 2019. - Credit: Credit: Dan Weill Photography

The NT will also run workshops and talks for the Wimbledon students during the week with insights into the Immersive theatre research and development experiences.

Chris Follows, Emerging Technologies Manager at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon, has overseen the partnership with Dimension and Wimbledon, as well as leading on the Tate Exchange relationship, running events there showcasing digital innovation with staff, students and alumni over the past 3 years.

“It has been fantastic seeing the mutual benefits that have come from the valuable and creative exchange between Dimension and Wimbledon staff and students, and I hope to use this experience to establish new collaborations with the tech sector across other courses at our colleges in the future,” he said.

“This collaboration is a perfect example of what we are looking to highlight and explore at the Uni to Unicorns event. The opportunities that can come from art school and tech industry collaboration are immense, for all involved.”

Visit the BA Production Arts for Screen course page

Find out more about the Digital Maker Collective