nGen News

New media generator powers up

Saturday September 26, 2009 - St. Catharines Standard

Right now, it's just two floors of lifeless office space.

But in coming months, it will be transformed into one of Canada's most dynamic new media hubs.

On a recent tour, Jeff Chesebrough, executive director of the Niagara Interactive Media Generator, or nGen, spoke passionately about what $3 million in new federal cash means for the St. Catharines facility.

"When this is done, the wow factor when you walk in these nGen doors on St. Paul Street will be second to none," he said. "This is going to allow for a tonne of new interactive media collaboration, from new companies to post-secondary schools and hands-on training for students. It's going to be an amazing facility."

The major infusion of money from the federal community adjustment fund announced last month will make nGen five times larger in size. It will dramatically boost its presence in the world of new media.

Chesebrough and Kristen Nater, co-owner of Four- Grounds Media, showed off office space where walls and sections will soon be reshaped for cutting-edge technology.

On the second floor, walls will be knocked out for a powerful data centre, which will house servers and advanced communications equipment.

A motion capture system will soon be in place on the third floor for tracking, analyzing and digitizing movement. It'll be one of only three of its calibre in in North America.

"What this means is if Silicon Knights has a video game where someone's climbing a wall, you'll actually be able to climb a wall and capture that motion," Chesebrough said.

To another side will be a screening and presentation room worthy of a major movie studio production centre. Installing a high-end visual effects and video-editing suite is also part of the plan.

When it's all done by March 31, as many as 60 new jobs could be added to the 25 already associated with the new media incubator.

Several additional tenants could be added to the four currently using nGen -- Fourgrounds Media Inc., morro images Inc., Furi Enterprises and Dragon Chess Interactive Inc.

"In the simplest sense, this will boost our company tremendously," Nater said.

"Not only with what we're able to do, but how much," he said, adding the facility could help double or triple the size of his video and digital film production firm.

"With this, the possibilities for our productions go right through the roof, and we can work with more and larger clients."

The generator is a joint project between Brock University, Niagara College, the City of St. Catharines, Silicon Knights, the Niagara Economic Development Corp., Interactive Ontario and the Niagara Enterprise Agency.

In April 2008, nGen opened its doors, with its two-year startup costs estimated at $560,000, of which $245,000 came from the Ontario Media Development Corp. The rest came from other contributions of cash and in-kind services.

In addition to helping new businesses get their bearings, nGen is also involved in projects with partners, such as Brock University in the development of a War of 1812 interactive video game designed for the iPhone.

"Now, we're going to have talent from everywhere knocking on our door because of what we'll have here," Chesebrough said.

One of those planning a relocation to St. Catharines is Christian Menge, owner of Freedom Works of Wainfleet, which develops 3-D interactive simulators for training.

When nGen is ramped up, he'll be able to use its "render farm," which lets users quickly render complex visual effects and animations.

Advanced sound and production facilities will also be a boon for Freedom Works. So will working with ambitious new media players.

"What you can't buy as an entrepreneur is networking power," Menge said. "This is about the ability to be in one location where you have like-minded professionals, all wanting to accomplish the same goal.

"And that's to build a really sophisticated 3-D interactive community in Niagara."

Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack said he looks forward to working with an improved nGen to help create video games.

"We believe this is not only something that can help Silicon Knights, but other high-tech companies in the region," he said in an e-mail.

Professor Martin Danahay, director of Brock's centre for digital humanities, said the expansion is a superb opportunity for students in various interactive arts and sciences programs to use state-of-the-art techniques.

"We're hoping that as soon as this comes on line, our students will start learning motion capture and other techniques that can only be taught here in St. Catharines," he said.

"We're actually working together at Brock to figure out how we can best position our students to take advantage of this new technology."

Niagara College officials are also excited by nGen's potential.

Ben Cecil, dean of the college's environment, media and technology division, sees a wave of start-up firms taking advantage of the expanded capabilities.

"This gives students the vehicle to take ideas they have from their courses, project work and faculty and take it to fruition," Cecil said. "It gives the fledgling company the chance to do things it could not necessarily afford, or use, without the support of a facilitator and incubator like nGen.

"From our students' perspective, we're really looking forward to working with nGen for new product implementation and creating new firms ... into viable Niagara employers of the future."


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nGen facts

What is it:Niagara Interactive Media Generator at One St. Paul Street in St. Catharines, a hub for interactive media project and business development in Niagara

Opened:spring 2008

New federal funding:slightly more than $3 million for an expansion into new floors and new equipment

To be completed:March 2010

Possible new jobs created:about 60

New features will include:

A data centre housing Internet servers, communications equipment, processing power and data storage under strict security

A high-end editing and composition suite

State-of-the-art production studio

Audio recording facility

Motion capture system for tracking and analyzing movement

High-definition screening and presentation theatre