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PhD Studentship: Conceptualising interactive & immersive fictional story design founded in film and TV (University of York)
Deadline: 20th September

We invite applications for an interdisciplinary PhD studentship entitled “Conceptualising interactive & immersive fictional story design founded in film and TV”. The studentship is funded as part of the XRStories project at the University of York and the successful candidate will be based in the Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media and work in strong collaboration with the British Film Institute (BFI). 

XR Stories is a £14m academic/industry partnership designed to enable the development of new immersive and interactive storytelling across film, TV, games and related digital media. It is part of a substantial suite of research and knowledge exchange activities led by the University of York and the BFI that focuses on digital creativity and the screen industries and embraces a wealth of other university and industry partners. Those partners include large international companies such as the BBC, Freemantle, BT and Sony; Yorkshire-based production companies such as Warp and Duck Soup; games companies such as Revolution Fierce Kaiju; and agencies such as Screen Yorkshire, BAFTA and Creative England.

A key challenge shared by many of the stakeholders involved in XRStories is how to conceptualise the authoring of stories that contain elements of interactivity and immersion, in particular in relation to how they are conceived, scripted, planned and otherwise designed. Existing concepts and representational structures from, e.g., film can provide a foothold for practitioners, but usually must be adapted or significantly reimagined as stories become responsive, personalised, location based etc. Despite explosive growth in the production of interactive and immersive narrative, it remains unclear what are the processes through which such stories and story designs emerge; what sorts of concepts and metaphors are employed in imagining or thinking about such stories and story designs; what sorts of authoring and production tools are being designed and developed for story design purposes; and what sorts of workflows are being developed to enable the productive use of such tools in designing stories? 

The purpose of the PhD will be to inform and guide the development of this new and interdisciplinary field by developing a conceptual framework to support the expression of thought, design, and analysis of interactive and immersive fictional narratives made with audio visual content. This will be achieved by combining bottom-up fieldwork — aiming to refine thinking practices and metaphors used in current creative production projects in and around XRStories into abstract concepts, reusable in various productions and genres — with a top-down theoretical approach — aiming to transform existing theoretical frameworks into pragmatic conceptual toolkits, useful in interactive and immersive story design.

This is a very new field of study and we encourage applications from people from a range of backgrounds who have an appetite for developing an interdisciplinary profile. You might be from a human-computer interaction background with an interest in story design, for instance, or from a humanities background with expertise in narrative studies and a developing understanding of immersive and interactive technologies. The successful applicant will be an innovative thinker who can appreciate both technological and creative developments and opportunities. The research will need to involve some horizon-scanning and analysis of possibilities; there will need to be some theoretical speculation, but the work should also be strongly grounded in pragmatic concerns. We are not however looking to develop a PhD by Creative Practice, or even a space for the creative and technical testing of ideas, technologies and designs. Rather, we are looking for someone who can identify, taxonomise and analyse the effectiveness of existing developments.

The PhD will be supervised by Marian Ursu, Jonathan Hook and Edward Humphry. Marian Ursu is Professor of Interactive Media at the University of York and Co-Director of XR Stories. Jonathan Hook is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York. Edward Humphrey is Director of Digital at BFI. 

How to Apply

To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a “PhD in Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media by Research” at the following link by the deadline of 20th September:

In the required research proposal document, you should indicate that you are applying for this funded position and include a statement of up to 500 words that describes your interest and motivation for exploring the proposed topic of the PhD; your background and how it relates to and can inform the topic and field of study; your ideas for potentially fruitful avenues of exploration toward the development of the proposed conceptual framework (e.g. relevant theories, approaches, case studies etc.); and any further information that is pertinent to your application. Additionally, please indicate Marian Ursu and Jonathan Hook as your preferred supervisors on the form.

We intend that the PhD should start by November 2020 (please select October 2020 in the form to indicate an Autumn start). This start date may be negotiable based upon your circumstances. Please contact us to discuss if you would like to consider an alternative start date.

Once your application has been received, we will contact you within five working days to confirm receipt and advise the next steps and timing of the ongoing application process. 

Please contact and with any informal enquiries about the studentship and the application process. 

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover the tuition fee at the home/EU rate (£4,407 in 2020/21) and a stipend at the standard research council rate for a period of up to 3 years (£15,285 in 2020/21). International (non-EU) candidates are welcome to apply but will be required to pay the difference between the UK/EU and international tuition fee rates, approx. £17,000 per year for the programme duration.