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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
Comment on this issue of Analytic

RTD problems and projects

The EU Framework programmes aim to stimulate investment in RTD in order to keep European industry competitive and up-to-date. This goal is as important to the creative industries and their clients in tourism, education and cultural heritage as it is to manufacturing or agriculture. Problems arise in applying methods of funding designed for industry sectors dominated by large corporations to the creative sector that is (at least on the production side) largely composed of small if not micro enterprises. In much of the creative sector the dominant companies are involved in distribution rather than production, whilst RTD is carried out by the production entities. In addition many of the small companies or individuals involved in the design or creation of products - writers, composers, graphic designers, film producers and directors - are employed on short term contracts related to specific projects.

The close connection between a specific product - book, film, game, toy, building, opera, play - and the technical development required to turn an idea into reality, makes RTD of a generic nature unusual in this sector.

Although generic software products for digital content creation exist, their use at the top end of the professional creative market is relatively limited. There are several reasons for this. Whilst writers are happy to use almost any word processor the same cannot be said for modellers, artists, animators, film effects houses or graphic designers. Each project requires some special effect or mixture of effects that no general purpose product will support. In addition the boundary is continually being advanced both in terms of quality of experience and in scope.

More important perhaps is the relation between creation, product and experience. In manufacturing the product and the experience are not closely connected, if at all. A sports car is designed with a particular experience in mind and many aspects of the design are driven by the need to satisfy the user's dreams. However for most industrial RTD, for example in washing machines, farm machinery, power generation, there is no 'experience' at the end of the value chain. In the creative industries the experience is most often the product; watching a film, listening to a rock band, playing a game.

Since the experience is the product, usually to be experienced only once or twice, the creation and any related RTD is tied to the specific production rather than to some general purpose product such as a film projector. Teflon in the context of cooking utensils was an advance in ease of use coming from RTD. It did not make the experience of eating any better; it reduced the work associated with clearing up afterwards.

RTD programmes sponsored by government are generally directed towards industrial research labs inside major companies or as independent institutions. Such programmes work where the RTD is intended to produce advances such as Teflon. They do not work where the RTD is required to show an ocean liner being overwhelmed by aliens, or to generate animated dinosaurs for TV shows. Nevertheless, RTD of the latter sort generates economic activity and thus, more jobs, more profit, more enjoyment - just as does the traditional type of programme.

The problem is how to support the creative teams engaged in product development for marketed experiences. One way would be simply to focus on the few companies that create on a large scale in-house, companies like Disney, Industrial Light and Magic, or the BBC, and ignore the large number of smaller companies also involved in the creative sector. Another way would be to focus on only part of the value chain, for example the hardware involved in creative production, distribution and presentation. Software is generally either in-house proprietary to the large companies or is not widely used in a commercial environment.

There are other possibilities that one can imagine:

• The finance for creative production comes from a variety of sources, but some is identifiable with specific parts of the value chain and relatively large organisations, usually distributors such as the large film studios and TV companies, but also some finance organisations. They might be brought into the RTD contract system in some way.
• A special class of project might be set up, like the Craft projects in past EU Framework programmes that link small companies with a technical support group to provide specific RTD support.
• Support might be provided directly to some sort of 'creative incubator' where different small companies were co-located to provide synergy between different arts and different types of technical group in a working environment.
• Basic or fundamental research in the creative area might be recognised with a longer time horizon and funding go directly to creative groups producing entirely experimental entertainment.

One type of support that should be avoided is RTD projects that duplicate work inside major creative organisations such as Pixar, on the supposition that there is a market for a commercial software product embodying the result. Professional creative companies do not use proprietary products of that sort on a large scale. The reasons relate to the degree of tweaking that is required to the software to create a particular experience product. Even successful general products like Maya are not sufficiently open or interoperable with other systems (for workflow requirements) to beat in-house code. At the same time there is no incentive for the companies to commercialise in-house software because of the costs of customer support and maintenance (with regard to external changes in, for example, OSs). Their business is the creation of experiences not software packages. This topic was discussed at some length at the recent Digital Arts World in London (October 2002).

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