A look back at 2021

With the dust truly settled on 2021, I’ve had the chance to take a breather and have a good look back at Shwsh’s journey over the last year. What could have been a first hard year in business was actually a pleasure thanks to our excellent clients and a constant flow of interesting R&D challenges.

At the start of 2021, I was lucky enough to be selected by National Theatre of Wales (NTW) to be part of their creative team bidding to be part of FestivalUK*2022 (aka Unboxed). We had already got down to the last 30 teams, and were putting the finishing touches on our bid to deliver one of ten multi-million-pound acts of public engagement to celebrate UK creativity. It was an intense but rewarding experience, collaborating with creative luminaries and practitioners from across the STEAM agenda. The creative vision was an ambitious transmedia storytelling experience and I was put to work utilising my years of experience supporting multimedia seasons at the BBC to advise on digital and broadcast aspects of the project. In March, we heard our bid had been selected and I’ve continued advising on some of the broadcast and learning elements of the project. I very much look forward to seeing how the transmedia experience, which has become known as Galwad, will develop and enthral audiences later this year. 

I got involved with the NTW team through Clwstwr, part of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme. Sitting on the Clwstwr management team this year has been a privilege, helping steer and judge their funding calls and skills programmes, and advising the successful projects. I hope the advice and support we’ve offered the many R&D projects we’ve funded has been useful. Bringing together expertise and different perspectives is a hallmark of the Clwstwr approach to supporting innovation, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make so many new connections. It has been a great excuse to stay genned up on a wide range of creative technologies in order to support the various projects.

Connecting to Seeking New Gods App (credit: Mark James)

A highlight of the year was working with Gruff Rhys and BBC Makerbox on an immersive multi device experience for the launch of Gruff’s new album Seeking New Gods, part of his Clwstwr R&D project. Advising projects is all well and good, but sometimes you need to get back to the coalface, roll up your sleeves and create something that delights and surprises, and it was great to know that Gruff felt it had made a significant contribution to his album making it into the top 10 in the charts (although I think that was more down to the quality of his music). 

Hot on the heels of winning the FestivalUK*2022 to bid, we learnt that another bid Shwsh was a partner on had been successful. media.cymru will be hugely beneficial for the screen sector in Wales, bringing together over £50 million in public and commercial funding to develop a globally recognised RD&I media hub. I helped shape the thinking around how we facilitate an R&D network and on some of the collaborations with broadcasters. I’m particularly excited that a cutting-edge virtual production studio is part of the bid, having been interested in the cross-over of games and film technologies for some time.

R&D Session with Hijinx performers and Production team (credit:Hijinx Theatre)

In the latter part of the year, I’ve very much enjoyed working with Hijinx Theatre. I was first approached to advise on content delivery for an AR app and developed a pipeline which used a new AI tool to clean up green screen footage of dancers and save a lot of time manually rotoscoping. The AI tools caught their Exec Producer’s imagination, which has led to us trialling the use of AI for live motion capture using only standard video cameras, no cumbersome suits or difficult to calibrate sensor arrays. It is a pleasure working with such a forward-thinking team and their amazingly creative performers, and it has been fantastic to actually get in a room full of kit and be part of the R&D for their next show. 

And to finish the year as it started, another successful funding bid, this time to Creative Wales’s Development Fund and leading the bid. The project will explore creating interactive shop windows, in particular using the latest computer vision AI to create low-cost controllers that allow hands-free interaction and dynamic displays. This will be our first project in 2022, working with a talented band of freelancers and artists to build a demonstrator for the technology.

My thanks go to these and our other wonderful clients for supporting Shwsh in its first year of business, I look forward to continuing our creative journeys together in 2022.