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Last Update: 2012-08-31   Source: Star Projects
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SPEED-FX – Breakthrough film technology paves the way towards Oscars

Millions of people saw the multi-Academy Award winning film, The King's Speech. What few people will know is that this box office hit was made possible, at least in part, by a groundbreaking research and development project funded by the European Commission.

© Fotolia, 2012

Thanks to carefully targeted European funding, a small UK start-up company was able to team up with a leading Spanish university to revolutionise the world of cinema postproduction.

Post-production includes all of the film-making work that takes place after the end of the actual shooting of the film - including key tasks such as editing, adding sepcial effects and transferring the original motion picture to video or digital format.

As a result of the project, known as SPEED-FX, UK company FilmLight was able to develop a radically more efficient, more flexible - and cheaper - system for cinema post-production than anything previously available. The impact was to bring post-production within the reach and the budget of far more users than ever before, and to propel FilmLight from a standing start to recognised industry leadership.

Previous post-production systems required users to buy expensive proprietary hardware suites. Each time a user needed to upgrade, an entirely new system had to be bought. Working in close cooperation with Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, the unique contribution of FilmLight was to create a system which bypassed this need for specialised hardware.

By creating purpose-built software programmes, FilmLight made it possible to link ordinary personal computers into a single system, thereby creating a kind of "supercomputer" to replace the old-style hardware requirement.

Founded by a small group of former employees from a large cinema production company, Film- Light was aided by experts at UPF who provided the technical research and development input to provide the new applications required, and who ensured that the new open architecture system would be reliable.

As well as using standard PCs, the new product, Baselight, incorporates industry-standard technologies for other key parts of the system such as computer memory, storage devices, graphics cards and networking capabilities. With the whole system running on Linux, an open-source operating system, the package can be easily upgraded as necessary.

This flexibility also means the system is unlikely to become obsolete, in the way that a purely hardware-based solution would do.

As a small start-up, FilmLight's founders had the vision and commitment, but like all stat-ups they needed an equivalent financial commitment.

Thanks to the € 3.5 million SPEED-FX project, of which € 2.1 million was provided by the EU, FilmLight was able to out-compete more established players and establish itself as a clear market leader, quickly achieving sales that dwarfed the initial project cost.

From this initial breakthrough, FilmLight went on to win a highly prestigious UK accolade - the 2006 Queen's Award for Enterprise in International Trade. In 2010 it scooped the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award.

The King's Speech may have been about King George VI's battle to overcome a crippling stutter. But there has been nothing at all stuttery about FilmLight's dramatic rise to international success as a result of the vision of the SPEED-FX project.


Project details

  • Participants: Portugal, Spain (Coordinator), United Kingdom
  • FP5 Project N° 34337
  • Total costs: € 3 514 018
  • EU contribution: € 2 100 000
  • Duration: May 2002 - April 2004

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Project details:
Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
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