CENTRE FOR DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT
This research programme asks its students to solve real problems with UK developers
“THE ENGD SETUP IS UNIQUE – OUR RESEARCH ENGINEERS SPEND THREE YEARS WITH OUR PARTNER COMPANIES”
Based across Bath and Bournemouth Universities, the Centre For Digital Entertainment gives research students the opportunity to work with UK developers on real problems, quickly gaining industry experience. Professor Phil Willis is CDE’s director; here he tells us why CDE’s unique doctorate – the only one in the UK to place its students with a company for the duration of their research programme – is producing extremely capable graduates. How does your EngD Digital Entertainment course work? The course funds researchers wanting to complete a doctorate with an applied twist. For that reason the students are called research engineers, or REs. Our REs first have one year’s intensive practical training in one of our two universities, almost all of which is project-led learning with little of the traditional lecture-style teaching – this includes masterclasses from our visiting company experts. There are core courses such as computer animation and games, visual effects and machine learning, and a growing emphasis on research as the year unfolds. We currently have 50 REs on the course and have funding for 50 more – it’s a big and supportive CDE family! Research engineers are placed with a company after the first year of training – how does this work? The setup is unique to the EngD model. REs spend three years in one of our partner companies in the visual effects, games or animation sector, and work on problems that companies want to solve. They learn how the industry works and have access to a comprehensive range of professional development opportunities. We make sure that all of our REs, wherever they are, continue to meet regularly, attend international conferences together and take part in game jams and public presentation events – all the while growing their skills. They’ll learn a great deal about the industry and emerge with a CV that no conventional research student can match!
It seems like a very flexible setup. Absolutely: one of the benefits of our training model is that we’re not limited to a fixed syllabus and can respond to new developments. For example, we have just finished running a Unity workshop because the students requested it. Which companies do you work with? We work with Electronic Arts, Ninja Theory, Crytek UK, Disney Research and SCEE, among many others. To become involved with us, a company must have a UK research base, must have challenging research problems and have someone who can advise the RE in the company. This is seldom a problem with the UK games industry, which has high technical expectations and a history of pushing research to find practical solutions.
Do you offer funding for the doctorate? We can offer a generous funding package for a research student, backed by additional money for international travel, attendance at conferences and at other events to suit the individual RE.
“With 50 students from five successive annual intakes behind us, we have more experience of this kind of high-end programme than anyone else in the UK,” says Willis. “And with 50 more ahead, we’re here to stay”