Who says you need a classroom to teach? Certainly not The Centre for Digital Entertainment, that’s for sure. While cuts in funding have seen many research groups and educational institutions suffer over last few years, the CDE has gone from strength to strength. The reason? It takes doctoral researchers out of universities and puts them at the heart of some of the country’s most forward-thinking technology firms.

A collaboration between the University of Bath and Bournemouth University, the CDE’s aim is to ‘train the future leaders for the computer games, animation, VFX, visualisation and graphics-related industries.

This not only better equips Britain’s technology industry with highly skilled individuals, but also provides an opportunity to undertake innovative R&D projects for the likes of Aardman Animations, Disney Research, National Trust, and Sony.

Learn as you go

So how does it work? In partnership with the CDE, companies suggest potential areas of research they would like to focus on but are unable to due to a lack of finance, time, or even skilled staff. From here, the centre picks out those individuals whose skillset and area of interest corresponds to the firm in question and pairs the two together.

East Building Exteriors for Conference Brochure

The whole project is overseen by a relevant professor from one of the universities who not only monitors the student’s progress but also assists in the development and analysis of the research. At the end of the project, you’re awarded an EngD, a doctoral level research degree similar to a PHD. However, the high level of on-the-job training the students receive is arguably far more highly prized.

You scratch my back…

Despite all this talk of qualifications and degrees, the work carried out by those at the CDE is by no means mere scholarly debate. The key aim of each project, and ultimately the true test of its success, is the transferability of research undertaken to product development.

As a current participant in the program, Steve Willey of visual effects specialists Double Negative argues that this is one of the major draws of the CDE. “I would say that the best thing is the chance to work on industrially relevant research that will have real-world applications. It’s incredibly motivating to know that your work will actually be used in a production environment for a major film, rather than just being an interesting paper to present at a conference.

“Where else would you be able to have a conversations from how best to use autonomous flying drones to 3D-scanning Ancient Roman architecture for use with state-of-the-art, immersive digital projection?”


For the universities, it is also a good opportunity to gain an insight into the areas of research those working within the industry feel are most important. As the Senior Lecturer in Computer Animation at Bournemouth University, Dr Xiaosong Yang comments: ‘It [the CDE] offers a unique working pattern that is different from most of other research labs in the academic world, by inviting an industry supervisor into each small research team. This special supervisor knows very well what is needed in the industry, they can provide immediate evaluation on our research ideas and tell us if they are worth carrying out.’

A broad church

What sorts of projects are students and staff from the CDE working on? Well, everything really, each falling under a variety of different categories and fields of specialist study. These range from developing character movement and behaviour in games for Electronic Arts right through to creating more accessible gaming technologies for stroke rehabilitation.

Computer Science Undergrad Shoot May 2013

For Paul Shepherd, lecturer in Digital Architectonics at the University of Bath and mentor on the program, this is a key strength of the centre: ‘Where else would you be able to have a conversations from how best to use autonomous flying drones to 3D-scanning Ancient Roman architecture for use with state-of-the-art immersive digital projection? Just the right ingredients for some real innovation!’

Forward thinking

If there’s anything that can and should be learnt from the CDE’s work, it’s that the breaking down of barriers between public and private can only be a good thing. By working with cutting-edge technology companies throughout the South West and further afield, the CDE is establishing a new model of how research and educational institutions can support the industry while also learning from it.

CDE currently have 10 fully funded studentships available for an October start, more info here. And for all your regular South West tech updates, follow TechSPARK on Twitter. NOW. If you want.