The Technology Strategy Board has been given a pot to help develop tech for VFX, film and games – but it's targeted vaguely.
Hidden away in last week's Budget announcement by the UK government was £15 million to 'to help businesses develop new solutions in cross-platform digital media'.
The money is available through the Technology Strategy Board, which says the money is to facilitate 'cross-platform production of digital content (including special effects) suitable for use in major feature films, games and online' – which is about as wide as funding goalposts can be in our industry.
We asked the Technology Strategy Board to tell us whether this was the money was destined to help the development of software for the VFX and animation industries – so available to British companies such as The Foundry – or whether it was targeted at VFX, animation and post houses doing their own R&D for particular projects. Their answer is just as broad as in its original announcement.
A statement from the Board tells that they "over the coming months, [we] will be consulting industry and other public sector organisations in order to identify the specific challenges that this funding will be used to address. They will be distilled from an analysis of the current state of technology and supply chains, as well as a forward look at what such businesses need to develop in order to be competitive in a cross-platform media world.
"The projects supported with these funds are likely to involve consortia of businesses and others who have contributions to make. So we might well, for example, see VFX production companies and software developers working together on a project from which they both benefit. As well, this programme will not just be a competition for funding specific projects. It will touch upon many other related issue areas, such as skills and training for example."
A broad focus and the opportunity for collaborative projects to be funded is, in theory, a sensible way to ensure worthwhile projects that cross niches within our industry aren't ignored because they don't fit a set of criteria – especially as some of the most exciting new areas of creativity mix gaming, video, animation, interactive and experiential design (such as Framestore and Death to the Flippers' work at Secret Cinema's Prometheus experience last summer).
But £15 million is not a big pot if it needs to fund a number of full-scale software development projects for multiple companies – plus training. It also can't be seen as a way for our VFX industry to do R&D for big feature film projects in the face of less payment for that work – which would be uneconomic and could gobble up a lot of the pot very quickly.
A cash injection to help develop next-generation technologies is of great benefit to the creative industries – but it needs to spent wisely if it's to be effective in helping develop something that will grow beyond itself.