Instead of flying actors and full production teams on location to execute a feature film, Hollywood is turning to virtual production to set the scene. After the global pandemic demonstrated that teams can accomplish more in pre-production remotely, saving time and money, the media and entertainment (M&E) industry further embraced virtual production for larger-scale projects.
Virtual production has appeared on media sets since the late 2010s, with Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure film “Oblivion” (2013) being one of the first major uses of the technology and “The Mandalorian” drawing more mainstream attention to the technology. In this blog we’ll cover this emerging trend and how it offers directors and producers new avenues to create captivating content. We’ll also share an expert’s views on the impact of virtual production – Monesha Madison Lever, a freelance producer, who has collaborated with big names like Final Pixel, a leading global virtual production house.
Essentially, virtual production merges real-time visual effects with classic filmmaking. Rather than waiting for post-production to begin visual effects, virtual production brings them into the pre-production phase.
|Virtual productionAn entertainment technology used in video production where LED panels serve as a dynamic backdrop. On these panels, video or computer-generated images (CGI) can be showcased in real-time.|
Virtual production empowers VFX teams to flex their creative muscles to create stunning virtual environments while giving the overall filmmaking process the adaptability to be shot anywhere.
When much of the world pivoted to remote work, the M&E industry had to quickly adapt. This transition led to a range of opportunities in the field of virtual production for filmmakers. Let’s explore the benefits below:
“Actors love seeing the world they interact with instead of looking into a green void. Automobile companies benefit from the sexy reflections cast on their latest models by the LED wall. Post-production benefits from a streamlined process of resolving problems before cameras start rolling. As the technology gets into the hands of more people with diverse creative ideas, the list continues to grow,” shares Monesha.
Virtual production technology is not limited to the film and television industry. It’s beneficial to content creators and video teams working in other creative capacities as well. Here are some examples of how teams use virtual production to improve process efficiency and expand creative potential that budgets or other logistics may have previously limited.
There are so many benefits! It depends on who you ask. With virtual production, directors can film in impossible locations – distant planets or remote locations inaccessible to large crews.Monesha Madison Lever, Freelance Producer
Virtual production is enabled by the fusion of different technologies. This encompasses motion capture, CGI, facial recognition, Augmented Reality (AR), laser scanning, robotics, and several others, all seamlessly integrated into a unified platform.
Monesha gives us the scoop:
“Three technologies are needed to achieve a “Mandalorian-style” virtual production. Camera tracking, 3D game engine, and LED walls. It’s the integration of these three that allow filmmakers to blend the real world with the virtual world to create realistic environments. The physical camera is tracked into the game engine, allowing the 3D environment to respond appropriately to the DP’s movements and achieve the parallax effect. Practical set pieces are not required but highly recommended to add more parallax and complete the illusion.”
Directors use software and tools like Unreal, Perforce, and Pixotope, among others, to manipulate and edit their production in real-time in the pre-production stage. Additionally, real-time tracking of live camera footage feeds precise movements into rendering platforms, bringing scenes to life instantaneously. This moves most of the CG work out of the post-production stage and allows teams to have an earlier idea of what the finished project will look like.
Originally designed for advertising spaces, entertainment venues, and broadcasting, LED panels have since found a new purpose on film sets, serving as dynamic backdrops, known as volumes, for motion picture shoots.
A physical modular space surrounded by thousands of LED screens or walls that display CGI in real-time. These LED walls can depict landscapes, cities, or any desired background, allowing actors and crew to interact with their environment more intuitively than they would with a traditional green screen.
One of the major mindset shifts when setting up virtual production is the emphasis on pre-production. In order to replace the green screen setup with an immersive virtual environment on set, many of the creative decisions usually associated with post-production are moved to the pre-production stage. This means production-ready environments, 3D assets, textures and effects need to be built upfront.
In a virtual production setup, visual development is handled by the Virtual Art department. Their work is explained in detail in a guide by Epic Games but essentially they create camera-ready assets and act as a link between creatives and artists to ensure all feedback is taken into account. Building camera-ready visuals before shooting brings an additional emphasis on collaboration in the pre-production stage where tools like LucidLink can help.
The second critical step is determining the technical requirements of the production. This includes making decisions about the:
A virtual production workflow encompasses the processes, technologies, and techniques used to combine live-action shooting with virtual environments and real-time visual effects. While workflows can vary depending on the specific requirements of a project, here’s a general overview of filmmakers’ virtual production workflow:
1. Pre-Visualization (Previs):
2. Technical Visualizations (Techvis):
3. Asset Creation:
4. Setting Up the Volume:
5. Calibration & Tracking:
7. Real-Time Review:
Directors and cinematographers can review shots in real-time together from a shared space like LucidLink to adjust lighting, camera movements, or even virtual assets as needed.
9. Final Rendering:
10. Final Review & Distribution:
While this workflow is a general structure, it’s important to understand that virtual production can take a versatile approach. The steps and technologies can be modified, rearranged, or even skipped depending on the needs and scale of a particular project and team.
Monesha fills us in:
No one wants to hear it, but the answer is: “It depends.” The budget depends on the creative. It depends on how large of an LED volume you need. It depends on how many environments you want to film in. It depends on how wide the camera angles are. It depends on so many factors.
It can be expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. With all the technology involved, renting a virtual production studio will cost more than a green-screen studio. Creating photo-realistic 3D environments optimized for real-time rendering isn’t cheap either. However, producers can often find savings in lighting, art department, and post-production that may help to balance the budget. If the camera movement is minimal, consider 2.5D environments where layered 2D images will give the subtle parallax you need. It’s possible to do virtual production with a green screen instead of an LED. You won’t benefit from lighting and reflections from the LED, but you can still use camera tracking and 3D environments.
The good news is there are many ways to accomplish virtual production in different budget ranges. The best place to start is with a creative idea. That can be in the form of a script, storyboard, or creative brief. Then, consult with virtual production pros and let them know how much you can spend (or can’t spend). They’ll help you determine if it’s the right technique and how to achieve it within your budget.
Significant data and large media files need to be accessible and editable in real-time by teams that are potentially distributed around the world. LucidLink can facilitate this by allowing editors, VFX artists, and other professionals to access media assets in real-time, regardless of their location.
Incorporating a cloud storage and collaboration tool like LucidLink into virtual production workflows can help studios stay nimble, reduce costs, and facilitate seamless collaboration. As the film and media production landscape continues to evolve, and with the rise of remote work, tools that bridge the gap between local and cloud storage will play an important role in helping teams stay connected, organized, and in sync.
“Footage shot in a virtual production volume works like footage shot on location in a traditional production. Once shot, the files can be saved to LucidLink and handed over to the editorial team,” Monesha shares.
Want to discover how LucidLink can maximize efficiency in your virtual production workflow? Try for free.
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