Creative differences

The Iain Gray Blog

The chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board muses on the common ground between engineering and the creative industries, among Britain’s top export earners

Looking round a packed conference room as we launched our Creative Industries Strategy last month, I found myself reflecting on its relevance for me as an engineer. While there is a huge amount of creativity in engineering, the sector is often more publicly associated with precision than flights of fancy.

Yet look more carefully at Lucasfilm or Pinewood Studios and the engineering component is pretty evident. The support the Technology Strategy Board is giving to professionals in the creative sector can be expected to benefit mainstream engineering in a number of ways. At BAFTA we talked about a £15 million initiative for ‘cross-platform digital production’. This is directly aimed at the digital special effects industry. A sequence prepared for a major film release will often be needed for a video game and possibly a music video as well. Yet sometimes these have to be re-created separately for the standard technology platforms used by these different areas.

“Bringing data from different applications and workstreams to create something new will enable specialists from different backgrounds to work more closely together.

Industry could achieve significant savings if these creations could be more easily repurposed for use across all the different platforms without having to be reconstructed each time.

wake
Computer games technology has been used to help model the wakes of wind turbines

Digital production techniques involve the exploitation and manipulation of large amounts of data. The application to engineering is obvious: visualisation of engineering data, whether for design or diagnostics, can simplify and speed up decision-making. It can help to make complex processes intelligible to non-specialists. Bringing data from different applications and workstreams to create something new – and for the result to be available on different technical platforms – will enable specialists from different backgrounds to work more closely together.

Convergence, bringing different digital technologies closer together, is one of the three priority themes within the Creative Industries Strategy. Another is concerned with getting more value out of data. This can result in quite specific ways of adding, and maintaining, value from assets. For example, a small UK software company called Zoo Digital recognised a need among film and video producers for a secure system that tracked media files across the production process. It put together a consortium of academic and production industry partners which built a prototype system. That approach to digital asset tracking clearly has much wider application.

The third priority area is concerned with the need to facilitate online transactions. More and more business is carried out online and improving these systems will provide a major benefit to business, consumers and the public sector.

One of the aspects of the Technology Strategy Board’s work which I find quite compelling is the way sectors and industries can learn from each other and contribute to success in areas very different from their main business. The Creative Industries have much to offer. For example, micro-enterprise Zenotech collaborated with GL Garrad Hassan and the University of Bristol in adapting video gaming technology to develop a cheaper, quicker method of CFD-based turbine-wake modelling. This process is used to optimise windfarm layout and so maximise power generation.

The Creative Industries, whether in visual arts, advertising or design, are already deeply embedded in wider industry and commerce. Our hope is that through this Strategy, focussing support on key areas where these industries can grow, their influence will spread still further with benefits to the wider economy in the years to come.