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Creative technology - RTD problems and opportunities

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The creative economy
RTD and creative technology
Creative technology as an IT market driver
RTD problems and projects
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RTD and creative technology

There are four principal ways that RTD can help progress in a market economy:

• Identify how technology can create innovation and improvement
• Measure technical feasibility, cost effectiveness, acceptability, usability
• Match technology to requirements
• Work innovation into the business model

In most industries the products and services of a company are constrained by the business they are already in. The innovation and improvement is in creating "a better mousetrap". In the creative sectors, the innovation is in creating an entirely new product or service, in an existing form or even in a new form. There is an immense difference between creating a new car and creating a new story. Creating a new story is closer to creating a new form of transport, with the difference that writing a new story is not very expensive compared with the investment required to create a new form of transport (railways, aircraft).

Walt Disney wrote "The future is not the result of choice among alternative paths offered in the present - it is a place that is created - created first in the mind and will; created next in the activity." The RTD element in the creative economy starts from a different point than that in the manufacturing economy. In the creative economy the artist has already a stock of new products or services in mind. The writers (and readers) of science fiction are already ahead of the technology. The first item in the list above becomes more a question of identifying whether and how technology can enable the new work already foreseen. There is a degree of circularity in this process since the artist needs to be aware of the available technologies.

An example of how this works can be seen in the development of videogames. In the pre-PC era of mainframes and minis, programmers spent some time writing 'fun' programmes. The programmers were not artists, and the results pretty bad: a programme that printed a picture of Father Christmas using the characters on a line printer, and a system for playing "The yellow rose of Texas" on a transistor radio via electrical interference from a line printer. Two things changed this: the introduction of raster graphic screens (pixel graphics instead of vector based displays) and interactive text games (big cave). The first led to arcade games (pong) where the user interacted physically with the image through knobs and sliders; the second led to the PC based game where the user interacted through entering text into the game. After the first rather techy inspired efforts, artists became the main force behind videogame development and a new creative sector emerged. They soon saw that the games could be improved significantly if they were in colour, included sound, were more detailed (visually) and had specific interactive input devices such as steering wheels and joysticks. Once immersed in the technology the artists could envisage new technological innovations and soon were into the four point RTD scheme in the first paragraph of this section. Global videogame turnover is now in excess of $18 billion per year.

A similar cycle has emerged with the use of digital technology in the other creative sectors. In the film industry the creative people have continually been involved in technical innovation from sound to technicolour to cinerama. However, the direct generation of digital content is a very recent innovation despite the long tradition of special effects and can probably be attributed to the success and penetration of videogames. Even the first Star Wars film used physical models, not digital FX. Only after an enormous amount of costly RTD from companies like Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic were digital effects sufficiently good to replace or augment manual systems of effects editing on film. Most current film work, for example in the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a mix of filmed action, filmed special effects and digital content. Creatures are first modelled physically, then scanned in and animated via motion capture and bone / muscle modelling before being digitally composited with the filmed sequences and other special effects.

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