The Yorkshire town of Rawmarsh looks like an easy target. Its trolley buses have come and gone and its two train stations were both wrapped up more than 40 years ago. For many years, it was the home of potters and steel workers; it was a mining town from the 15th century, an industry that survived over 500 years until it was closed by a certain ruthless Prime Minister... you know who - yes, Jim Callaghan in 1978.
It’s one appearance on the silver screen was in Tread Softly Stranger, a Diana Dors movie. The backdrop was Rawmarsh and the film was bleakly promoted as a stark drama filmed against the turbulent fiery background of steel - hardly something the tourist office would shout about. And just to firmly squash the people of this Yorkshire town, along came Jamie Oliver to publicise his healthy school meals campaign, set against a fiery backdrop of supposed parental ignorance. The press lapped it up (the story, not the food) and loved condescending and knocking the people of this old Northern town.
Parents at the schools targeted by Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 programme weren't upset about his 'rabbit food.' When the newspapers dug deeper they found that families simply didn't want political interference in the contents of their kids' lunchbox. They didn't want to be put under the media spotlight by a celebrity chef and they did not want to be lectured by Channel 4. But did they sheepishly retreat to their sofas; they let the world know how upset they were. Rawmarsh is a clearly a town of character. And strong characters. A town that sees itself in a positive light.
Enter the Rawmarsh City Learning Centre. City Learning Centres (CLC) are absolutely cutting edge when it comes to education. They are about empowering students and giving them skills that are useful to their careers. CLCs promote teaching and learning through technology. They are about equipping students - whether in secondary, further or adult education - with the creative and technical skills that will be essential for today's workplace. Rawmarsh CLC has a new media centre to be proud of, complete with fantastic TV facilities.
Whilst Jamie Oliver tried to impose his vision, the Rawmarsh City Learning Centre gives students the opportunity to select courses that suit them and match their vision of their own future. And a lot of the learning and practical skills tuition at the centre are based around its impressive purpose-built TV studio.
The new studio is at the heart of the centre and is used for video work, animation, technical theatre and photography. It is in constant use and needs to have the flexibility to adapt to every sort of production, from pop video to short feature.
The studio was recently installed to a broadcast specification. Check out a few headline facts:
- 107m lighting and curtain tracks
- Half a ton of metalwork rigged from the ceiling
- 96 square metres of curtaining
- 34 lighting units
The studio is clearly built to last. But more than that, it was designed to give students as realistic an experience of television work as possible.
"We were given the brief to deliver a TV studio. Not an education studio. Not a training studio. But a working space worthy of real world television production." Explained Nick Allen-Miles from Ianiro, the company responsible for the lighting installation.
Shooting the action are the agile JVC GY-HM100E and Sony HVR-A1E cameras. Lighting is critical for any entry or mid level digital camcorders that lack the dynamic range of film cameras and the low light performance of the highest spec systems. Poor lighting allows noise to creep into pictures and detail to be lost in hard shadows. A good production can easily start to look mediocre with poor light. With this in mind, Ianiro was tasked with balancing the need for perfectly controlled lighting with the discipline of keeping within the budget of a locally funded project.
The Rawmarsh studio is equipped with 14 Ianiro ice2 fluorescent 125w coollights that are used as chromakey and back lights to create a soft effect with very diffused shadows. Main or Fill lighting is supplied by 12 220w ice4 soft lights. Spot or Key lighting. Spot or key lighting, allowing for a real 3D feel to the shot with focused beams, is provided by 8 650w Fresnels. The overall effect is to transform the space into a true TV studio.
Given the daily workout the studio receives and the varying levels of expertise of each budding lighting director, durability and robustness are vital. Being out of action is no more an option for this studio as for any commercial organisation - it is at the very heart of everything that goes on in the centre. Components were sourced from Kupo and Doughty Engineering for their reliability in tough working environments.
The lighting rig is now in place, running smoothly on 34 moving light carriages, with height adjustability supplied by 4 3m pantographs. Configuring and re-configuring the set up is almost continual:
"The turn around between sessions is very short. The lighting set-up gets changed constantly as students experiment with different styles of video." Explains Centre Manager Trish Sharp. "We needed a system that was easy to use and could take some real punishment."
The installation team saw full lighting control as a priority. The Learning Centre opted for a Transcension 48 channel lighting console - a highly cost effective unit that combines ease of use with excellent control over lighting effects. Its special effects are individually programmable with any six active at one time. The start, stop, fade time, and running speed of each effect can be manually controlled or activated by an automatic setting.
A central role of the studio is to enable chromakey productions. Using VFX Solutions fabrics as a backdrop gives students the opportunity to use techniques that were until recently the preserve of the feature film and specialist high budget TV features. The size of the CLC lighting rig comes into its own for green screen productions as errant shadows and unrealistic glare can instantly ruin the effect on the screen. Creating a foreground that combines naturally with a computer generated background requires the level of trial and error that the centre's lighting rig allows, with pantographs and rails getting a full work out to establish the perfect shot.
Enabling film-style keying is the Newtek XD300 HD switcher which also gives students access to tools for HD titling, HD digital disk recording, audio mixing, editing and streaming. Supplied by Planet PC, it's broadcasting in a box. But Rawmarsh is a centre that thinks beyond 2D... by splicing together two of its camcorders and using the Cineform plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro, the college has recently made its first 3D film. "Anaglyph today, polarization tomorrow," says the ambitious centre manager.
Now completed, Rawmarsh has a studio that is the envy of many a local production company. However, jealousy is not a factor as one of the raisons d'etre of a City Learning Centre is that the facilities are available to the wider community and the team have already worked with students of all ages, although "no one over 83 yet", says Trish Sharp. It has the active involvement of local creative professionals, including Simon Blakemore of Plumpie and RAF photographer James Stier.
As a town, Rawmarsh has a long history, going back further than the Domesday Book - it can take the odd knock from celebrity chefs and passing governments. In fact anyone that paints Yorkshire people as victims of history or people that are out of step with modern day lifestyles is missing the point. By a Yorkshire mile.
It's early days with the centre's studio newly opened but Trish Sharp says it is already proving a hit.
"When students arrive they like the idea of a career in TV. Half way through their first term, they are now convinced that it's the career for them. We are chroma keying virtually every day and making the most of this incredible asset. We're getting as many people as possible into the studio, from poets to pensioners. "
And the future?
"The studio is at the heart of everything. The quality and versatility of the lighting rig means that we have a multi-purpose TV space that is really fit everything we can throw at it. Our students can experiment as much as they like. And we are determined to keep investing, whether it's more stereoscopic 3D kit or DSLRs."
The TV studio at the City Learning Centre is testimony to an old town with a forward thinking, progressive approach to education and community creativity. And it's all down to bringing together highly affordable digital video technology and old-fashioned lighting excellence. What today's broadcast suppliers can now deliver to non-traditional markets shows how the TV and the non-broadcast world are getting closer and closer.
Ianiro and the Cinecitta Studios
The history of Ianiro is closely associated with the Italian film industry, and specifically Rome's Cinecitta studios. The studios were founded in 1937 as a complete centre of production. The output was massive with 300 films produced in the first 6 years. At the end of the war, the studios provided the perfect location for American cinematographers looking for affordable facilities, exotic locations and local craftsmanship.
The resulting productions have endured: Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Quo Vadis, Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain. Cinecitta has etched its place in film history. It was in this era that Ianiro was established, offering cost-effective production equipment to Hollywood directors at Cinecitta. The company was dedicated to manufacturing high quality lighting and grip fit for the filmmakers of the time from Fellini to Mankiewicz. Today both Cinecitta and Ianiro are Italian legends and both have broadened out from their origins in film.