The Imaginarium Studios, founded by Jonathan Cavendish and Andy Serkis primarily as a motion capture performance specialist and production house, has doubled down on its commitment to working in the games industry by appointing Gina Jackson as the company's first ever head of games.
Imaginarium signalled its first concrete move into gaming in January, when it joined forces with Creative England to form an indie publishing outfit, but Jackson's appointment is a real indicator that the firm is stepping up that engagement.
We spoke to Jackson, who has previously held roles at Women in Games Jobs, NextGen Skills Academy, Blushing Blue, Nokia and Eidos, about the new position and what it might mean for a future of collaboration between the UK's creative industries.
You've had an enormously wide ranging career in games - why make the move to Imaginarium now?
"Because when someone asks you if you want to set a games publisher from scratch you say yes, especially when you share a similar vision and values. I have always striven to make games for the masses, I made the move from Ocean/Infogrames to Nokia in 2000 because I could develop games and publish games that were on over a million handsets a year. I believe everyone is a gamer, it's just about finding the right content on the right platform that works.
"The Imaginarium is special because the founders are content creators and because the company is a true mix of creative and techonology. It's great to work somewhere that has in-house R&D again, is pushing the boundaries of technology as well as creative thinking. The work that has been done recently with the Royal Shakespeare company, putting real time motion capture into The Tempest in Stratford, has been transformative for the medium. To be able to translate the on-set characters on stage in the way Shakespeare has imagined it, is truly magical. We are also doing the same thing in games such as Battlefield and Star Citizen's Squadron 42, as well as for our own new game in development."
"When someone asks you if you want to set a games publisher from scratch you say yes, especially when you share a similar vision and values"
It's fantastic to see a company founded by such a big name, particularly one from outside the industry, pivoting towards games. How big a part of the company's future will that be?
"It's interesting that Andy Serkis is considered to be from outside the industry, not only is he incredibly au fait with technology, he has been a big part of many games, including directing heavenly sword and doing performance capture in Enslaved and Squadron 42 as well as voice overs in Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Risen. This isn't a bolt on because they think it would be fun to be making games, it's about being able to use every medium to tell stories, finding the right people that can support their vision of being the home to the next generation of storytelling.
"Each medium is unique and has its strength and weakness and content must be tailored to ensure we give the consumer the best, most emotionally engaging experience. Back in 2010, in an interview for the Guardian, Andy Serkis was quoted with saying "'Every age has its storytelling form, and video gaming is a huge part of our culture. You can ignore or embrace video games and imbue them with the best artistic quality. People are enthralled with video games in the same way as other people love the cinema or theatre. Over time, I think perceptions will change.'"
Do you expect to see others from tangentially related industries like film follow suit?
"I believe lots of companies are bringing together different strands of media together already, but it may be that we don't view them in the same way. From Rebellion making games, books, comics, films, to Blazing Griffin creating games and film to Sony making music, films, hardware, software and electronics, lots of people are working across different media.
"We may be different as we are working very closely between the sectors and creating games that are being concepted at the same time we are working with script editors - we are playing catch-up on some of our properties, but it's so exciting being able learn from other professionals on how much time a film spends in testing and how long a film is spent being tweaked. It is often months, and sometimes years, after filming that the film gets released. I want to understand how we can learn from their processes and profiling of an audience and they are keen to understand how we go about our testing and how we relate to our audience."
"Honestly, it's slow progress in both diversity and skills. Education in the UK has become so commercialised that to make a successful educational institution you need to get as many students as possible and the lowest cost of education provision"
You've dedicated a lot of your life to improving the skillbase and diversity of the UK industry. Are we getting there? What are the major challenges which remain?
"Honestly, it's slow progress in both diversity and skills. Education in the UK has become so commercialised that to make a successful educational institution you need to get as many students as possible and the lowest cost of education provision. For many colleges and universities it has become all too common that what is being taught and who is teaching it is not as important as student numbers. We made huge progress at NextGen bring in a new curriculum, written and developed by the industry that is taught and supported by the industry with tutors who often come from the industry.
"The whole idea is that students are put at the centre of the learning experience and it's about getting them jobs and helping the industry grow because it has access to the right skills. Having 16-year-olds learning the broad spectrum of skills from coding to life drawing has been transformational. This is the breadth of teaching on the NextGen FE College course. I am not saying you get students who are good at every aspect, but they understand the principals and why these skills are so important. They also learn how to work in a team, have computation thinking as well good communication skills. It's the whole package.
"The stats for women in games are getting better. We aren't back up to the proportions of women we saw back in 2000, but the progress is in the right direction. My main concern is we are still losing senior women, those in decision making positions. I am also concerned about social diversity and background: if everyone in a team is thinking the same way and has had the same experiences you don't get the impact of creative tension which will enable better games and experiences to be made. The lack of diversity in products and in team is usually simply because people aren't aware, not because they are deliberately trying to exclude. We need to keep talking about diversity and for everyone to be less afraid of it."
"I have been doing an increasing number of talks and panels about the cross-over between games, films and TV in particular. The sectors are all fairly inward facing and have a distrust for the art of each other's speciality"
How can Britain's creative industries work together to build better futures for all?
"It's more difficult that I imagined. I have been doing an increasing number of talks and panels about the cross-over between games, films and TV in particular. The sectors are all fairly inward facing and have a distrust for the art of each other's speciality. For example Film and TV people are getting really excited about the use of drones because they can now put a camera anywhere. So, when you ask them are they learning from games - where not only have we been able to put a camera anywhere but also we often give the player the control over that camera - their reaction is often 'why would we look to games?'
"There are organisation who can help. For example, of late I have been working with the BFI on how we can start looking at linking linear and interactive narrative together, doing panels at Focus and the Belfast media festival, lots of groups want to help and we are starting to make inroads." We're increasingly seeing major crossovers between film and gaming IP, and in more and more successful ways. Where do you see the future of that transmedia approach leading?
"The first games studio I worked in developed Terminator 2 and Last Action Hero games albeit on the SNES, so I would say it's been part of the games industry for a long long time. I also worked at Ocean who were the kings of the licensor during their generation but it was always an after-thought. The work of Tell-Tale games has been revolutionary and they have managed to evolved their own genre of games that has enabled successful uses of licenses Also Travellers Tales, Rocksteady and Obsidian have demonstrated that with the right people they have managed to find way of partnering with brand owners to ensure the brand is delivered to its best as a game."
Games are often spoken of as becoming increasingly cinematic, and we're learning things about character development and plot development from film all the time, but are games in danger of following too closely in cinema's footsteps? Should games be emulating film so closely, or taking their own path?
"I think we are learning from everywhere, it's not just films but books, radio plays, TV, theatre - even journalism and social media. We are all telling stories, engrossing other people in our narratives, we are all looking to emotional engage with others. To connect with one another. Each medium is only successful if it takes its own path but these paths overlap and intertwine all the way along. We are so far behind the development of the film, book, TV sectors that of course it looks like we are following them but they also have a lot they can learn from games too."
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