US gaming giant Epic endorses Ulster University courses

Epic Games has awarded Ulster University’s Screen Academy academic partner status, as the university invests £1m in a virtual production facility at its Belfast campus.

The US gaming giant is the creator of Fortnite and Unreal Engine, the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D tool, has awarded Unreal Academic Partner status to the Ulster Screen Academy, endorsing the Games Design and Animation programmes.

The Unreal Academic Partner Program recognises exemplary universities that have successfully integrated Unreal Engine into their classes and labs.

In support of this, the Screen Academy at Ulster University has separately announced a £1m investment in a new Virtual Production Facility at its York Street Campus in Belfast.

The £1m investment, part-funded and supported by the Department for the Economy’s Higher Education Research Capital (HERC) Fund, will help the university deliver new aspects of the curriculum in response to the real-time revolution taking place across film, television, games, and animation production. The new facility will also support leading-edge research in virtual production for use in the screen industries.

A £1million investment will see a Virtual Production Facility created at Ulster University's Belfast campus.

The state-of-the-art facility will encompass an LED wall with camera tracking technology, full-body motion capture, facial capture, large green screen and virtual cameras.

Some of the top production companies in the world are using this technology, creating exciting new possibilities in the world of film, television, animation, and game design, placing the university at the forefront of this development.

“It is our pleasure to welcome the Screen Academy at Ulster University into our Unreal Academic Partner Program.” said Linda Sellheim, Education Lead, Epic Games.

In the context of the incredible success story of the creative industries in Northern Ireland, already contributing over £1bn GVA to the NI economy and employing around 26,000 people, these announcements mean that talent will be fostered and advanced, developing a workforce ready to meet the demand and growth in these industries of the future in a sustainable way.

These announcements support the ambitions of the Ulster University-led £65million Screen Media Innovation Lab (SMIL), a world class Virtual Production facility and part of the Belfast Region City Deal.

Dr Declan Keeney, Director of Ulster Screen Academy, commented: “We are delighted to receive Unreal Academic Partner status, and that our courses have been endorsed in this way.

Dr Kearney continued: "The new facilities will support staff and students in their ambition to offer the most relevant and agile degree programmes offered anywhere in the UK and Ireland, responding to the 3D and real-time skills gaps identified by our industry partners.

"We have embedded virtual production into the curriculum, teaching students high-end production skills for games design, animation, film and broadcast. Our graduates are highly sought after by the industry and these announcements today only serve to enhance their employability. With our Belfast Region City Deal project, SMIL, we know we will generate new jobs in Northern Ireland that require specialist digital skills and our students will be ready for them.”

He added: “We cannot understate the importance of the Unreal Academic Partner endorsement – it’s the industry telling us that the Ulster Screen Academy is on par with the best institutions around the world, yet available here on our doorstep in Northern Ireland”.

The virtual production facility will use same new tech as the blockbuster Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Professor Paul Seawright, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, added: “Building on the Universities' standout success of the £13million Future Screens NI accelerator project, this ambitious investment project will continue to deliver expert technical skills, opportunity and growth across film and broadcast, animation, games and immersive technologies and industries in NI.

"It perfectly supports our Belfast Region City Deal Project in this sector and creates a sustainable environment for growth in this area.

"We are experiencing real-time and 3D revolutions in the screen industries and through these two announcements, Ulster University is living its strategic ambition to lead change in the way that higher education institutions can get involved in and actually shape our creative industries and building the highly skilled workforce of tomorrow.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds commented: “I am delighted that my Department has been able to support this exciting facility at Ulster University. By helping to provide the highly skilled graduates needed to attract investment and high quality jobs in the creative industries, this technology will add significantly to the sector’s potential contribution to Northern Ireland’s economic recovery.”