Food for thought leads to new business idea

Backstage Academy prides itself on promoting employability, thanks to an end of year project a former student has launched his own enterprise based at the South Kirkby Production Park base.

Ashley Ball was part of an eight strong team of students at the university accredited academy which created a unique dining experience using cutting edge video technology to create stunning visual, sound and atmospheric effects for diners while they ate food fit for rock stars.

Inspired by the Petit Chef videos where a mini chef cooks a virtual meal at their table the team brought the concept to life with real food and added special effects called the Digital Diner.

“Our only brief from Backstage Academy was that the project had to be ‘cool’. We’re all creatives and had lots of ideas but we were determined the Digital Diner would be appealing and commercially viable,” explained Ashley.

Under tight time constrains they teamed up with Production Park’s onsite tour caterers, Rockpool, who helped design a three course internationally themed meal.

“To maximise the impact of our idea we decorated the room in plain colours. Then, using the latest video technology, Notch, we were able to create stunning effects that had a real Wow factor.

“Backstage Academy is one of the few places that has Notch. It uniquely allows you to add video content in real time, so we were able to manipulate images throughout the evening. For example, we projected fish on to the tables, but we were able to move them reactively, so they appeared real. Notch also gave us the flexibility to adjust the guests name cards as they arrived to take into account last minute seating changes. They were tiny differences which made a massive difference to the end product.

“From the control room, where we were manipulating the video, we could see how our diners’ moods changed. For example, brighter more dynamic scenes prompted more animated conversation, while diners were quieter when we projected darker, slower images. They started with Japanese ramen served against a backdrop of a cherry garden, followed by Mexican tacos in an Aztec style temple and finally Italian gelato and pannacotta served on a terrace overlooking a vineyard.

One of the digital meals served to guests

“Both Rockpool and ourselves were thrilled at the guests’ response and the fact that in only a few weeks we created the concept, designed a menu and sold enough tickets to make a small profit. We may even be tempted to do it again but be more aware of the impact on our guests’ mood of our video,” added Ashley.

Joining Ashley in the Digital Diner team was Ed Joynson, project manager, Sam Vaughan, creative director, Charlie Cooper, marketing sponsorship and relations, William Hopkins and Kyle Reseigh as content leads and Andy Delmaine and Lucie Ozanne as audio leads.

Waiting for his final results from Backstage Academy, that is accredited by the University of Bolton, Ashley and second year student Kalean Dalton have set up Lucid Technologies.

“Lucid Technologies takes the technology we applied to the Digital Diner and uses it to improve live events. We can use video and digital mapping for things like performer tracking and audience experience as we did at Digital Diner.”

Glen Rowe is MD of Backstage Academy. He said of the Digital Diner and Lucid: “Backstage Academy is all about factory-floor learning. Projects like Digital Diner are the complete vision of our students to dare to dream up something amazing.

“I love the way this project tested the students of various real-life scenarios and took them out of the learning bubble.”

One industry insider said: “That was the best night out of my year so far. That’s the kind of energy that motors us to drive faster in educating the future of this incredible industry.”

The Digital Diner was sponsored by Rockpool Tour Catering, Lucid Technologies, HSL Group & Epson as technical sponsors and Jolly Boys Brewery who provided locally brewed ales.

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