The launch of a first of its kind extended reality (XR) stage in a UK Drama School.

The Project

As part of its £1.9 million capital investment in infrastructure, sector-leading Rose Bruford College partnered with technical solutions specialist White Light (WL) to design and install its new XR stage. Funded by a capital grant from the Office for Students – England’s higher education independent regulator – the investment has also enabled a significant upgrade across all college Lighting, Audio, Video and IT resources.

The Brief

Rose Bruford undertook a rigorous tender process to find the most suitable partner to fulfil the different requirements of their brief and deliver the best stage solution. The brief originated from a desire to explore and invest in the full range of XR technologies. Harnessing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), as well as virtual production techniques, would help enhance learning by expanding on the real world using digital information. The stage was required to provide students with the opportunity to explore new forms of performance and storytelling in a fully immersive and interactive environment. It needed to equip graduates with the skills and experience they need to succeed in the rapidly evolving media and entertainment industry. The facility was required for many different applications, including live and recorded events, education, research development and training – making it an invaluable resource for students and the wider community.

The Delivery

Drawing on its pioneering research and development in XR and experience in global deployment of its multi-award winning SmartStage® product range, WL conducted workshops throughout the system design process. This resulted in a value-engineered solution, that harnessed the potential of this technology, while satisfying the College’s bespoke needs and budget parameters. In an evolution from White Light’s SmartStage product, a solution was provided that could be reconfigured for both XR and ICVFX work. The space also needed to be reconfigurable for Drama Teaching and motion capture work. Working with the manufacturers to produce custom firmware, we expanded the universities Optitrack system with additional cameras and processing to add sub mm accurate object tracking and lighting tracking through Blacktrax using the same cameras. A Mosys system was used for camera tracking to obtain the accuracy needed for XR set extensions and all three tracking systems were integrated into the data network to be available to Unreal engine and Disguise. In order to achieve this goal, we designed a mobile control and teaching workstation which connected to the fibre infrastructure installed in the studio via grid mounted facilities panels. This desk houses motion capture peripherals, KVM workstations with access to Unreal engine and media severs and can host the universities lighting and sound consoles as required with all required cabling integrated. In addition to the mobile control workstation, we created a flypack media server rack connected to the main facility via an umbilical. This meant the Media severs could be taken off site to be used for projection mapping and stage performance projects maximising the return on investment for the facility. The Rose Bruford XR stage has a broad application for technical arts and design students, training actors to perform on mixed reality stages and for professional training purposes. The AOTO RM Series product was chosen as the premium LED solution that could be flexible and easily maintainable in an educational environment. Partnered with the ROE Visual Black Marble series, disguise Media Servers, BlackTrax person and object tracking technology, Adder XDIP KVM’s and a WL bespoke truss base solution, this combination provided a professional and accessible SmartStage solution for students to understand and learn the capabilities of the XR/VP and MR in a simulated production environment. Delivering the multi-functional education space demanded increased flexibility and functionality within the design. Utilising information gathered during client technical workshops, the College required elements of the kit to be flexible and mobile for team to operate and use outside the Gallery space.

"With WL’s expertise in this field, they were the ideal choice to collaborate with. With high demand for the XR stage across multiple stakeholders, we needed a partner who would understand and engage with the many different requirements and deliver a seamlessly interchangeable solution."

Dr. Nick Hunt

Rose Bruford College’s Digital Research and Innovation Fellow

The Results

Student training for the new stage is already underway across existing technical and performance courses, while the College is also launching a new course in September 2023, Design for Performance. The cross-disciplinary course allows students to explore and then specialise in design for set and costume, lighting (live events, festivals, and performances), film, virtual production, gaming, or virtual reality experiences.

"Partnering with Rose Bruford College to deliver the solution called for the utmost care when planning and executing such a state-of-the-art installation. Co-ordinating directly with the project, estate and technical teams was paramount to the successful delivery of this project."

Stuart Bourne

Project Manager, WL

Project Summary

Client: Rose Bruford College
Location: Rose Bruford College Campus, Sidcup
WL Delivery Team: Business Development Consultant: Sarah Cox
Project Manager: Stuart Bourne
Key Technology Partners: White Light Ltd – SmartStage®

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