Sue McHugh is the co-founder of VFX and immersive studio Carbon Digital and RecodeXR in Manchester.
In 2021, SBS Audio Visual and MediaCity’s Carbon Digital united to create virtual production studio RecodeXR, which is used for immersive scenes on TV shows and soaps like Coronation Street.
Initially started out in the games industry, Sue worked across multiple titles such as Sony Psygnosis, Rage Software & Jester Interactive before setting up Carbon Digital.
She shared all the lessons she has learnt…
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
Getting outdoors, the nature of what we do means I am either sat at a desk or working within the Virtual Production studio. The incredible power of the games engine means that on a daily basis I can be immersed in a virtual Tokyo street setting or on a Himalayan mountain top but getting outdoors at the end of the day for me is essential. Letting go of the keyboard is when ideas start to flow!
What’s been your luckiest break?
Working with ITV on Coronation Street’s ‘super-soap’ week episode was pretty epic! We spent three months producing a rooftop shot off a mill overlooking the Manchester skyline. It was an incredible experience with the Corrie team really welcoming Recode as part of their extended team.
It was a huge challenge and a real broadcast first for a continuing drama to use Virtual Production but the high visual expectations from ITV are exactly the conditions in which we love to work. It was very exciting to be a part of.
What’s your best failure?
I started my academic studies in fashion but the whole scene never really floated my boat so in the first year of my degree I moved to study fine art in Manchester where I had the opportunity to focus on digital arts using the very first silicon graphics machines.
I was hooked and building a small portfolio of work I was able to get a job on leaving with Sony Psygnosis making games. I still use those same skills in one form or another today. I still paint too and it really keeps my observational skills sharp, looking at detail, form and lighting in all our work in the studio.
What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?
Definitely spending time with our team during lockdown to develop and launch our virtual production offering. It was a time when our usual clients were unable to get together and paused their projects, without it we wouldn’t have had the time or mind space to develop something new but in doing so we are now a couple of years ahead of the game working in the volume. It’s been so exciting to do that and to see our team grow in a new creative space.
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I’ve read it three time trying to gain a true understanding of its message, I wouldn’t describe myself a being particularly spiritual but this book really gave me a different perspective on life.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Worry less! Running a business is a constant worry, you never just switch off so if I was 21 I’d like to know that it would be ok to worry a little less.
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
Definitely my husband Paul who I met when we worked as artists in the games industry many moons ago! We’ve lived and worked together ever since launching Carbon and RecodeXR and we’ve enjoyed the problem solving aspect of every project that comes along.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
I ran the London marathon three times, once in a lime-green mankini! Hard to believe I did that now but over 22K was raised for a childrens’ cancer charity.
How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?
Virtual Production will be more commonplace as a means of creating sustainable content without the need to travel to distant locations with huge crews. Every little we can do to support sustainability and avert a climate crisis is essential and I think Virtual Production gives all types of content production that opportunity.
What does success look like to you?
Having a happy team who have the opportunity to do what they do best and deliver for a wide range of exciting clients. I’ve always enjoyed seeing our work across a range of genres and of course the best compliment is when the visual effects go unnoticed!