University of Wolverhampton School of Performing Arts: Developing the minds behind the future of film and theater


Everyone is critical these days. They lament the poor quality of a production’s special effects, or the way an actor’s make-up reflects on screen, or even how emotional a film’s music is. At its heart, live and recorded performances only exist because of the work that goes on behind the scenes – and, with the sheer volume of media released, it is imperative that they are of the highest quality.

Despite this, there are not enough trained and qualified crew members to make this possible. In the UK, crew members tended to lack formal training when taking on production jobs, while the ‘first thing’ cut from film budgets was training. This leaves a gaping hole in the industry with few qualified hires to fill it.

Enter the University of Wolverhampton. It is home to the School of Performing Arts, an institution entirely dedicated to equipping its students with the skills they need to create, design and sustain every element of performance. Above all, it is future-oriented – ensuring that students are not only prepared to meet the needs of industry as it stands today, but have the intuition to meet future demands as the area of ​​performance develops.

Miniatures created for a Windrush project. Participants were 3D scanned and the resulting images were printed in plaster and displayed by Dame Floella Benjamin (Centre) at the Chelsea Flower Show. Photography courtesy of Backface Studios. Source: University of Wolverhampton

Take the BA (Hons) Digital Production Arts program, for example. The first course of its kind to enter the UK higher education market, it combines the latest digital technologies to create and design special effects for theatre, film and television. Here, students learn everything from traditional aspects of theater to virtual and augmented reality, lighting, sound, and theater design.

What sets this program apart, however, is that it focuses on industry standard trends. “The industry is in urgent need of graduates who have good working practice in traditional sculpting, molding, casting, make-up and prosthetic application, costume and theater design as well as its digital equivalents of scanning , Zbrush digital sculpting and 3D printing,” explains Neil Hughes, course leader for the program.

At the same time, students are made aware of changing industry requirements over time through the “Foundations in Special Effects” module. “This course covers the evolution of special effects media makeup and prosthetics, from conception in vaudeville theater to the emergence of the motion picture industry, from Lon Chaney to Gordon J Smith, from Dick Smith to Rick Baker “, shares Hughes. “Students learn about the history of art and who were the pioneers before working with the materials themselves.”

All the while, they receive on-the-job training in the form of working with peers from a wide range of performance courses such as acting, dance and musical theatre. This is supported by access to the university’s innovative Performance Hub, fully equipped with music teaching, performance and practice rooms, a traditional black box theater and high-end professional recording studios. range, while the Production Hub has bespoke technology suites running the latest in industry technology. software required, such as Zbrush.

University of Wolverhampton

ZBrush image of the 3D scanned model’s body, manipulated in ZBrush to design a prosthetic cast on the body. The production center is equipped with bespoke technology suites running the latest software required by the industry. Source: University of Wolverhampton

In addition to this, the university has partnerships with leading industry professionals including Studio Sangeet, Phyllis Cohen, and Backface Studios. Hughes himself is an active production designer and has brought students to watch alongside his team on productions for royalty, international shows such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies, and even on the set to work on Steven Spielberg’s box office hit “Ready.” Player one.

Another innovative program is the BSc (Hons) Audio Technology and Production, which offers students a unique blend of audio production, creative computing, employability/industry practice and research. It is industry accredited by JAMES (Joint Audio Media Education Support), which accredits the course on behalf of APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services), MPG (Music Producers Guild), MMF (Music Managers’ Forum), AMPS (Association of Motion Picture Sound), MIA (Music Industry Association), ABTT (Association of British Theater Technicians), PLASA and UK Screen Association.

Here, students learn all about audio technologies used in professional, practical, and theoretical contexts, including music production, game and movie sound, sound design and synthesis, live sound, as well as design. and the development of interactive tools. Along with this, optional modules covering topics such as songwriting, lighting, teaching, and AR/VR, allow each student to tailor their experience to suit their professional goals.

In this, no expense is spared. Students can use a range of recording studios, where classic analogue recording techniques can be combined with the more reliable technologies provided by the digital sphere. In addition to this, there are dedicated concert halls for recording on a variety of media. By the end of the program, students will have used, designed, and built various hardware and software audio systems for industry-relevant applications, which will truly prepare them for a successful career in audio.

University of Wolverhampton

Student work experience: King Oberon, costume, media make-up and hand-feathered wing prosthetics for a live event in Mayfair, London. Photograph courtesy of Sanshine Photography. Source: University of Wolverhampton

Students are taught by an experienced and dedicated teaching staff with significant involvement from industry professionals, giving them plenty of opportunities to work with well-known players in the field. In recent years, students have worked individually with Olga Fitzroy (Dua Lipa, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Hans Zimmer), Ken Scott (The Beatles, David Bowie), Gary Bromham (Sheryl Crow, George Michael) and Charlie Hugall (Florence and the Machine, Ed Sheeran, Halsey), among others.

It’s no wonder, then, that School of Performing Arts alumni have won BAFTAs, worked as BBC mixers, and found success as music producers, game audio sound designers, and more. In Hughes’ words, the school is “a place of equal opportunity” where students are encouraged to “approach projects with their own unique voice”, giving them every opportunity to thrive in the new world that develops around them.

Find out more about the BA (Hons) in Digital Production Arts here, and visit the University of Wolverhampton here.

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