Creative Industries is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Welsh economy, experiencing a 16.5% increase in employment between 2009 and 2011. Today, the sector employs more than 30,000 people in approximately 4,200 businesses across Wales and contributes £1.8 billion in annual turnover to the Welsh economy.
An example of a success story within the Creative Industries sector is iCreate, a Swansea-based 3D animation and architectural visualisation company established in 2003. Dawn Lyle, iCreate’s co-founder and Managing Director, explains the company’s core business and how it has grown since its foundation:
“We make new buildings seem real before they exist, working from architectural drawings to turn static 2D plans into vibrant realistic 3D images that help developers achieve planning permission, sell the properties and plan new developments.
“When Jake Major and I started the company after we graduated from what was then Swansea Institute, we had just one member of staff and all three of us initially worked from home. We are now a team of about 10, although this has fluctuated a lot as our business growth is dependent on the property sector. 2013 was very successful for us, as we won significant contracts both within the UK and abroad and this has allowed us to employ an additional three people.”
iCreate’s international trade grew by 50% in 2013, with the company securing a a major contract with Dow Chemical to produce a 3D digital flythrough of the Sochi Winter Olympic Park and a deal with leading Australian fuel supplier Caltex. Dawn Lyle believes that the support of HPC Wales has been an important factor in allowing iCreate to secure this new business.
Access to high performance computing (HPC) has led to a reduction in the amount of time that it takes to transform a 3D scene into a fully functioning animation. As she explains:
“A key element of our work is producing photo-realistic flythroughs and animations of new properties. That requires a huge amount of rendering time. We’ll model the development and add in all the details, lighting and materials, but the process of turning that scene into a finished animation is incredibly processor intensive and time consuming.
"We’ve had to invest constantly in new hardware to enable us to render our animations. We’ve had to keep clients waiting while we’re rendering and try to get them to understand that the process could take a month. The commercial realities of the property sector mean that clients are very impatient as they need to secure sales as quickly as possible. So, in the past, the rendering time has always been a major challenge for us, and probably something of a weakness in our customer service.
“There are limits – financial and in terms of space – on the amount of hardware we can have in-house for rendering. Recently we have experimented with using HPC to massively speed up the rendering time for large projects. On a recent job for a developer in Miami, we were able to create a very high level of realism and detail in the animation, far more than we would have been able to render in-house within the time that was available. Without HPC Wales, we would have had to compromise on realism and details so that we could render in-house – and this might not have been acceptable to the customer. So, HPC Wales enables us to reach a much higher quality product within a reasonable timeframe. That generates more business for us than we would be able to attract if we were limited by the hardware that we have in-house.
“Going forward, access to HPC Wales will mean that we can take on larger projects and deliver higher quality outputs, knowing that we’ve got virtually unlimited resources to render that work. That gives us a real business advantage and it also means that as a company we don’t have to be concerned with constant investment in hardware or with ensuring that we have enough space to host the hardware.”
As one of the leading architectural visualisation companies in the UK, with a growing international business, iCreate is responsible for bringing money into Swansea and for creating jobs for talented people in the city. Dawn Lyle described the ways in which she thinks that iCreate contributes to Wales:
“As our client base is largely external to Wales, we bring revenue from around the world into the local economy. We then spend that money locally on wages, on investment in new property and with local suppliers.
“We’re also very keen to offer employment opportunities to local graduates. We’re the only 3D computer animation employer in Swansea and we take that responsibility seriously. We offer internships and work experience placements to students and graduates on computer animation or games design courses. Last summer we took on three new graduates as interns with us over the summer. We gave them the training they need to develop the skills that are required by employers. That’s a great opportunity for them. Whether or not they stay with us they learn valuable skills. It’s also a great way for us to identify talented people who are based locally and can help us to continue to grow.”
Already established as one of Wales and the UK’s leading architectural visualisation companies, iCreate are using HPC Wales to access more compute resources than would be available to them in-house. These resources are enabling them to grow their business internationally, thus creating new jobs in Creative Industries in Swansea and contributing to the growth of a key sector of the Welsh economy. Dawn Lyle recommends that other companies explore similar opportunities with HPC Wales:
“HPC Wales is a big factor in our confidence in the business going forward. We now have really great examples of recent work on our website and this definitely does generate new enquires. The fact that we have used HPC Wales to render high quality products for clients in America gives us confidence in growing our business in that region “I would certainly advise people to make use of the resources offered by HPC Wales and to view it as a real investment for the future because, as all of our work comes more processor intensive going forward, having the backing and support of HPC Wales is a huge advantage.”