A Belfast Region City Deal will see £25.2million investment in Studio Ulster, a cutting edge virtual production studio.

Situated at Giant’s Park, Belfast, and developed by Ulster University in partnership with Belfast Harbour and supported by Northern Ireland Screen, Studio Ulster will be a  large-scale, virtual production studio complex with world-class commercial stages, supported by an integrated R&D centre of excellence for real-time and virtual production.

The film and screen industry has become a major contributor to the local economy, with estimates by Northern Ireland Screen suggesting the last three film and television productions have together been worth more than £100million to the economy. Recent shoots have included Kenneth Branagh’s feature Belfast.

A multi-million pound investment by Belfast Harbour will create a 57,000 sq ft building, housing two large-scale virtual production stages with in-camera visual effects stage, a motion capture stage, a 3D scanning stage for full body, facial and object scanning and an R&D smart stage with virtual production technologies to support research. It will support 461 direct and indirect jobs in the screen sector.

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen, said: “Virtual production has really shaken up the screen industries and Studio Ulster will be transformative for our industry here in Northern Ireland. Providing state-of-the-art production, studio and R&D facilities will help considerably in ensuring that Northern Ireland retains its position as a global leader in international screen production. Virtual production will also help create a much more sustainable industry. The training and skills development opportunities Studio Ulster offers will expand the capacity of the talent pipeline, to meet clearly expressed industry needs. It is wonderful to see education and industry across the public and private sectors joining forces to bring such an innovative project to life.”

Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University, commented: “The unique academia and industry, public and private sector partnership approach underpinning Studio Ulster is unprecedented and to realise our collective ambition, we must have a pipeline of graduates who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to specialise in creatively-led, technologically-driven production, and research and development. For many years we have been responding to industry reports of skills requirements and shortages through the Ulster Screen Academy, offering students innovative film and broadcast, animation, games and immersive technologies courses to help deliver the much-needed skilled workforce to drive the screen industries forward.”

Joe O’Neill, Chief Executive of Belfast Harbour, said: “We are excited to be working with our partners to deliver this significant investment for the Northern Ireland film industry, which underlines our ongoing ambition to be a major economic hub for the region and create the largest European media hub outside of London. The UK market for film and content production has continued to strengthen and this project will serve to further increase Northern Ireland’s global competitiveness in the creative industries sector and help to attract leading production companies to both the traditional stages and the virtual production facility.”

Construction on the Studio Ulster site begins later this month and the facility is expected to be fully operational and open for filming from early 2024.

Pippa Considine

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