Welcome to Wakeywood -Backstage at an XR/VR/Unreal Engine event Production Park in Pontefract

Its official!  The Pontefract / Wakefield area in Yorkshire is the new Hollywood – I’m not making this up!

I spent a couple of days last week at the Backstage Academy on the rapidly growing Production Park in Pontefract, which is home to the  some fabulous students, some super engineers, some amazing sound stages and the about to be world famous XPLOR Innovation Centre. Which is a £6m+ Backstage Academy project, partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, and based on Production Park. 

What do these guys do?  Well, they make the unreal possible – they make reality virtual, and  they lead the way in XR and VR production in the UK.

Everybody has seen how Disney has used game Software ‘Unreal Engine’ to create the world of ‘The Mandolorian‘ – with everything shot on sound stages that are basically huge TVs, the walls, the floor and the roof of the stage, all reflecting a reality that can be manipulated with the touch of a button.

Lighting can be controlled within this virtual reality, and cameras specially designed to work with the software can create a real sense of movement, actual spatial reality, and a photo realistic representation within the studio itself – so the actors, can see and feel the universe in which they’re performing (making this software so much better than old school greenscreen or chroma key for performers).  These VR soundstages are changing production, and they’re changing where production takes place.

The UK has always had great film and TV technicians – but up at Wakefield at the Production Park – they have great film and TV technicians AS WELL as engineers well versed in the build and manufacture of these VR stages. They’ve also got students trained especially to run these stages (which often need a couple of dedicated servers and a crew of at least four or five highly trained people to get the most from the stage.) These students are doing degree level learning ON THESE STAGES…

So Wakefield is becoming a VR/XR film production hub – because the expertise is here in Yorkshire. But there are other reasons why this new tech is becoming so popular.

The environment is on everyone’s mind, and rightly so. Film producers and production companies are beginning to get asked about ‘Carbon Footprint’ and the days of huge convoys of production trucks (or 747s flying cast and crew across the globe) are beginning to be frowned on.

It won’t be long until films need to balance their carbon footprint. And that’s where XR/VR production comes into its own…

In the next few years (or even RIGHT NOW) it will be possible to shoot ANY type of film /TV show or series ENTIRELY on a sound stage in Wakefield. The same way that Disney Shot The Mandolorian – but the Mando is fantasy – XR/VR productions can make REALITY look real tooand when producers get wise to that – the WHOLE show can be on the same XR stage – no need to jetset, no need for convoys of crew to each location – the whole play can be put on right here (in Wakefield).

I recently moved from Leeds to Wakefield – partly because I’m keen to get involved in one of the biggest shifts this industry has ever seen.

Welcome to Wakeywood. You read it here first….

Matthew Cooper has been a scriptwriter for hire and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer.

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller ‘Markham was released in 2020, his second feature film as director ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ hit the screen in 2021. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.

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