When you think of cutting edge video games you tend to think of Japan, while the world biggest and boldest movies have a strong link with Holywood.
Yet, in a business park just off the Sandy Row in Belfast, young people are harnessing the technologies that can help them compete with the world’s top animators, video game and movie makers.
Belfast-based digital arts charity WheelWorks was established in 1995 with the aim of getting young people involved in new technologies.
The charity’s latest innovation has seen it explore the motion capture technology used in video games and on big screen blockbusters.
Jan Todd, social enterprise co-ordinator with WheelWorks said: “While young people here may be familiar with what MoCap can do having seen it in their favourite blockbuster films such as Avengers: Endgame, this will be the first time that they will learn how to use it themselves to produce their own work for film, animation and game design.”
“Our digital academy offers young people across Northern Ireland the opportunity to learn how to code and make their own games, how to animate characters in 3D, and how to use augmented reality and virtual reality with motion capture.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for young people to learn those skills that are unfortunately not currently available in our schools.”
Motion capture is the process of recording patterns of an actor’s movements to animate a digital character in a film, animation or video game.
Explaining how it works innovation officer Veronica Tate said: “Motion captures is where we capture all the actions and movements of a person who is strapped up with this sensor system. All that data of all the motion is transferred onto a 3D character like Spider-Man, The Hulk, Superman.
“Technology has come so far from what it used to be. It used to be a lycra suit with markers on it and cameras all around a massive green screen room. That would pick up all the motion data and apply it. It was a slow process.
“What we have now is this strap system. It’s so quick and versatile that it can fit any body size or height.
“There are 32 points of recognition on the sensors.
“The sensors on the straps will flash to let us know they’re switched on.
“We calibrate it by a series of movements which are picked up by WiFi allowing it to talk to the laptop. It a very quick process now.”
WheelWorks will open its Digital Academy on Monday, October 28 with a Halloween Tech Camp in Motion Capture.
Over three days, participants will learn about 3D Character Design and Texturing for film, animation and game design.
On Saturday, November 9, the WheelWorks Digital Development Lab will open for five weekly sessions. Topics will include 3D Character Design and Texturing, 3D Character Animation and Motion Capture, Augmented Reality Development, Beginner 3D Game Design and Music-Marking to soundtrack your animation or game.
In terms of how WheelWorks courses tie in with school curriculum, Veronica said: “Things are changing, the ICT in schools is going to run off. What they’re bringing in instead is digital technology.
“As well as helping young people, these courses would be perfect to help out teachers who don’t have the skills or knowledge to feel confident to teach digital technology.”
Veronica, who has been with Wheelworks on a freelance basis for around 14 years following a career delivering training to schools in moving image arts, animation and game design, said: “Careers are different for kids now, the global playing field is a lot more level. The gaming industry in particular is crying out for more girls.
“I’ve seen a lot of young people, especially girls who won’t take up ICT or digital technology because they are afraid of the coding.
“The technology we have is so beautiful, so amazing.
“Unreal engine that we use is fantastic because the language is so visual. Doing it that way gives them a helping hand to develop their own skills in coding.
“Augmented reality is going to take over everything. Virtual reality is truly for gamers, but augmented rally is everywhere. 3D skills are absolutely needed.
“With virtual reality I find that kids get bored with it reality quickly, but if they’re making their own content it’s a different story – there’s complete ownership there.”
Poster boy for the digital academy Tyler Crooks is an 18-year-old paid intern with WheelWorks.
Growing up in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey he said he never dreamt of the opportunity to work in video game design.
He said: “Wheelworks came to our community group.
“I’m from a deprived area where we wouldn’t have access to that sort of equipment.
“Being given that chance really got me hooked.
“I got asked to mentor and volunteer.
“I enjoyed every minute, and managed to get an internship.
“I’m now going off to uni to do game design for three years.”
Tyler, who had previously attended Abbey Community College, commented: “I always grew up around computers and technology, I had my first computer when I was seven.
“New technology always interested me.
“I never thought I would have anything more than a simple laptop yet here I am in a state-of-the art motion capture suit.
“I’d like to become a game developer and maybe one day have my own studio.”
Tyler’s tutor Veronica Tate said: “Motion capture can be applied to anything and everything, especially in the film industry and game development.
“You’ll not really find anything like this motion capture technology being offered throughout Northern Ireland.
“It’s a stepping stone to get into the film industry, the game design industry, the animation industry, app development.
“To be able to say you have skills in motion capture is pretty amazing.”
On one of WheelWorks courses for young people who were not in employment, education or training (NEETs), participants learnt how to make a business card with a difference.
Veronica said: “We ran a project called iConnect to help young people get into employment and training.
“It was during the project that they created these business cards.”
As a demonstration, Veronica produced a card which when scanned via a tablet device, revealed a talking, 3D image of the young woman who had created the card.
She said: “The character was created by one of the participants, Niamh, using motion capture.
“It looks exactly like her – her clothes, right down to her ponytail.
“What she has created is a little augmented reality version of herself. It’s attached to her business card. She’s able to pass this business card out to unis or potential employers.
“All you need to do is scan it and it will bring up this little talking character on top of the business card.
“You can also press a button to phone her or download her CV.”
To secure a place for a young person aged nine to 24 on one of WheelWorks digital courses contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 02890 244 063 or visit www.wheelworksarts.com/digitalacademy