Spotlight On... The Imaginarium Studios: The renowned conjurers of mixed-reality storytelling

7 May 2019

The performance and motion capture studio based Ealing Studios founded by Andy Serkis is leading the way globally - this month UK Screen Alliance find out from CEO Matt Brown how they operate as a shining example of multifaceted innovation in mixed reality.

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The Imaginarium Studios is the only commercially available motion capture facility in London, founded in 2012 but already having gained a top-quality reputation – Can you give us some insight into the company’s history & how it has grown over the years?

The company came together as a result of Andy Serkis’ experience playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had seen first hand the state of the art of motion capture, and upon returning to the UK decided to create a motion capture volume that represented not just the promise of the technology, but also insisted on a high artistic and creative integrity. 

We’ve worked on projects of all sizes and levels of complexity – from big budget films like Star Wars to live theatrical performances like our collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company on The Tempest.  In terms of the team here at Ealing, we keep the core group small and very focused on maintaining and growing our capabilities.  We then expand and contract based on project needs. 

As far as our business model, it’s a blend of service work where we act as a vendor, and co-productions that see us much more involved in all aspects of the project.

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Image credit: Motion-capture in-action, courtesy of The Imaginarium Studios

How would you describe the style and character of the company?

We are always led by the stories our clients and partners want to tell.  As such, every project requires some form of novel integration of technologies, so we typically take off the shelf equipment and tech and adapt it for our own production purposes. This means that the team represents a mix of production talent and deep technological know-how.  When confronted with a technical challenge brought about by a creative requirement we come up with new workflows, write code, develop new hardware – basically whatever is needed to deliver on the creative aim. 

Our workplace is very collaborative, everyone is multifaceted and has the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the work we do. 

Imaginarium is based at the legendary Ealing Studios - Are there any major advantages/ drawbacks to being in the current facility?

We really like being based at Ealing Studios, it’s a great place to work with such an amazing history.  Practically, it’s an excellent location for staff and crew – many of the team live within a short distance to the studio. The buzz of the lot and the fact that there are so many productions coming and going creates a nice atmosphere. We also regularly end up working with productions that come to Ealing Studios, which is a huge bonus.

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Image credit: Magic Leap One spatial computing diagram from Magic Leap

Have you noticed any changes in the development of exploring new platforms and technologies in motion capture at the moment?

The technology is in a state of constant change and we work quite hard to stay ahead of developments. We’re able to do that because we have a world class team that has the vision to see things in ways few do. This means we’ve created a long list of world firsts, all creative endeavours that were only made possible by the technological developments of our team. 

Location-based experiences and the push for more multi-input capture on set is driving a lot of our tech development at the moment. Likewise, new VR hardware like the Valve Index and of course Magic Leap’s Spatial Computing platform are really exciting for us.

Do you have any speculations about mixed reality advancements at Imaginarium/and other facilities in the UK?

Mixed Reality holds so much promise in so many ways.  For us, it’s a new platform that offers huge creative possibilities. Devices like the Magic Leap One fundamentally change how stories can be told. Through our content partnership with Magic Leap, we’re definitely in the lead globally as far as how motion capture can be used to create mixed reality content.  Through the projects we’ve worked on with Magic Leap, we’ve basically create the pipeline for how such content runs on the Magic Leap One.

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Image credit: Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Image credit: Lupita Nyong'o as Maz Kanata for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Do you have any favourite (released) project/milestone that Imaginarium has worked on/achieved within the past year?

We’re all really proud of the work we did with characters such as Snoke in Star Wars.  Likewise our time on Avengers was really exciting. The version of Go we created for the last Chemical Brothers tour was awesome.  As far as milestones, taking live motion capture to Shakespeare was huge. More recently our time on the new Men in Black film was great fun. 

Can you tell us anything about what may be on the horizon for Imaginarium?

So much of what we’ve been working on isn’t out yet!  On the horizon though is a lot more work with Magic Leap, primarily finishing the processing of The Grinning Man, a musical that we captured last year. Capturing a full theatrical production had never been done before so adapting the piece for all sorts of platforms is going be really exciting.  We’re also gearing up for shooting a fully CG version of Animal Farm that Andy Serkis is directing for Netflix.

Thank you for your time Matt!  

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