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Sara Coppola-Nicholson: A Unique Kind of Film Visionary

While inheriting established knowledge is a gift to those working in the film industry, every art form will evolve by the very nature of the ones creating it. Since the days when epic tales were told around campfires, the goal of storytellers has been to make their audiences suspend the disbelief. With fast advancement of technology, CGI, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, the level of immersion that can be generated today is incredible. Surely, Sara Coppola-Nicholson has been both a facilitator and a witness to this evolution. Working as a part of Foundry (UK based), this senior project manager, also an acclaimed producer, has seen her team literally change filmmaking. The work they have accomplished over the past four years is already impacting on nearly every aspect of the entertainment industry, both from creatives and audience’s perspectives. Producers don’t receive the level of public adulation that marquee name actors and directors garner but within the industry, Sara has fashioned a reputation which is synonymous with forward thinking approaches.

With FAME (aka Film quality Augmented and Mixed Reality Experiences), R&D collaborative project funded by the UK Government, Foundry and ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) tested the possibilities of ground-breaking AR/MR technology in film. The main goal was to enable the experience of feature-film quality characters and properties interacting in the user’s own environment, in real time. Essentially, via a smartphone or HoloLens, this system would allow you to interact with a known CGI character from a high-budget film, walking around your living room, responding to the room’s lighting conditions of that very moment.

In order to showcase the technical prototypes developed by Foundry and ILM to the wider creative community in such a way that would irrefutably demonstrate their high potential, therefore enhancing adoption, Sara produced a short movie. The piece featured a narrative AR demo, filmed at the iconic Inner Temple (London’s house of barristers) and a series of behind the scenes interviews explaining the R&D work done during the project. She then organized a big final show at the CVMP2017, the conference housed at the BFI Southbank in London, where, as well as enjoying the short movie, attendees were also able to experience virtually a series of short location based AR scenes, adaptations from the main film. The response was profound, further adding to a long track record of impacting the film industry from Foundry and ILM. As the professional guiding FAME, once again Sara confirmed her reputation of a disruptor among filmmakers.

As a senior project manager for Foundry, Coppola-Nicholson also managed the EU funded project Dreamspace. The objectives of Dreamspace were to make virtual production techniques more accessible in the film and broadcast industries. In a panorama where creative content is more and more generated by a complex and multi-layered mix of live action footage and digitally generated elements, the system developed within this project would allow directors, designers, and artists to combine real and virtual content collaboratively on-set or in a performance space and seeing the results immediately. Dreamspace brought together high profile players (Foundry, NCam, Filmakademie Baden-Wüttemberg / Animationinstitut, Stargate Studios, iMinds, CREW, University of Saarland) and aimed at revolutionising the way creatives work on set today. “The work was totally absorbing” Sara recalls “I was constantly looking at the most recent demands of the Industry, measuring our progress, organising public demonstrations, traveling around Europe to support experimental productions, talking with industry experts to gather independent feedback and confirm we were working in the right direction. Conversely, the learning curve I experienced was like no other. I’ve always been a techy person but for most of my career I was sitting at the “user” side of the table, generating creative results with technology given to me. Dreamspace (and Foundry) brought me to the other side, where technology is created and the future of the industry actually made. It was enormously exciting.” At project completion, the prototypes and knowledge resulting from Dreamspace greatly furthered the pipeline of all partners and, as a public reward, the consortium was awarded with “Excellence” from the EU Commission.

Kinch and the Double World is a film created with prototypes and technology developed during the Innovate UK (UK Government) funded project ALIVE. Foundry, the University of Surrey, and the production company Figment presented at CVMP2017 in London this innovative VR movie which allowed the audience to follow the adventures of the main character [Kinch] with a level of immersion never experienced before. Offering a combination of newly developed VR narrative techniques and full 6DoF, Kinch and the Double World was lauded as the most immersive VR experience to date, receiving the award for Best British Experience and Best Cinematic Narrative Experience at Raindance. Sara’s guidance for ALIVE was essential: with her experience and knowledge of the creative, as well as the technical aspects, she empowered the consortium to push the boundaries of technology and yet deliver a piece of art like no others. And nearly two years after its first release and many awards later, Kinch and the Double World is still experienced and acclaimed around the world. While the public reaps the benefit of these various innovative forms of storytelling, professionals like Sara are rewarded with a seat at the table of recalibrating the art itself. With projects like Fame, Dreamspace, and Alive, her own lineage is unquestionable.

Author: Kelly King

Sara Coppola-Nicholson: A Unique Kind of Film Visionary Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:51:00 PM Rating: 5
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