The UK will lose out on virtual production opportunities unless it gets significant investment in training and R&D, according to a new report.

The report from StoryFutures, the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, calls for urgent measures to address a virtual production skills gap across the creative industries.

5. StoryFutures.Image by Sunnyside Productions, VP Futures @NFTS _ StoryFutures

Image by Sunnyside Productions, VP Futures @NFTS_StoryFutures

The report also found that, despite the availability of new training initiatives during 2023, the demand for training continues to outstrip supply and that there is an urgent need to upskill. Over one third of organisations surveyed reported that staff have less than six months experience of VP.

Even for VP-productive organisations which are beginning to establish a presence in the sector, two-thirds reported that VP skills in the employment market are in weak or very weak supply.

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It said there is an urgent need to rapidly develop new skills and grow new talent and capacity in organisations that show potential and appetite to use VP, in order to meet rising demand. Training gained in isolation is not as valuable as training gained while working within a VP ecosystem, said the report.

A similar picture emerges in R&D. The survey shows that VP techniques and workflows are being supported by informal and unstructured approaches to R&D often through trial-and-error experimentation while on set.

It says that this adds unnecessary complexity and risk, with companies reporting that significant risks were being taken to complete productions to schedule and within budget. The added R&D pressure to learn tools and innovate during active projects is said to be a major barrier to successfully competing in the VP market.

The need for R&D funding is clear, said the report, which noted that most organisations involved in VP are R&D intensive. 79% are actively carrying out research and development on live VP projects. At the same time, the vast majority of organisations received funding below £10k making it difficult to sustain intensive R&D cultures in these organisations - 67% of which are micro-businesses or SMEs. This is underlined by the fact that less than half of these organisations have ‘in-house’ VP-dedicated teams (42%), who can devote time to vital R&D.

Micro-businesses and SMEs are in particular need of increased R&D funding from the public sector to help them become VP-ready businesses and sustain growth in this sector, said the report. 37% of VP-productive organisations have accessed public grant funding, and 26% have secured public match funding.

Professor Peter Richardson, head of virtual production at StoryFutures said: “With so many companies in the UK poised to add Virtual Production to their already world-leading production expertise, the potential for the UK creative workforce is enormous. However, our research tells us that our UK creative industries risk losing their R&D advantage if we fail to train the creative teams and companies who will innovate, disrupt and advance virtual production techniques and technologies. It is our hope that this research will inform and energise the next phase of training and R&D in this hugely exciting area.”

StoryFutures’ Virtual Production Skills Report 2023 surveyed 35 companies working or planning to work in VP.

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