The Virtual Production Journey Begins...
This time a year ago, I was in the depths of a quarantine low. Looking for some escapism, I embarked on a journey to watch all 130 hours of the Star Wars canon. Once I arrived at the newest addition to the series, The Mandalorian, I was blown away. Not just at the quality and direction of the series, but the underlying tech that enabled all of it to work. Most of the show's fantastic otherworldly environments were captured in camera, projected onto an almost 360 degree LED screen array. The background moved in synchronization with the camera offering a seamless partnership between a VFX world and camera. In researching the process (more here, here, and here) it became clear that this type of production was going to be the future of filmmaking, and not just on large scale projects helmed by Disney. I started to imagine all of the use cases for the kind of projects that All The Way Around produces (read: not of the same budget tier as a Disney production)
Thus began a year’s long dive into what has been aptly named “Virtual Production.” The secret sauce to this brave new world is Unreal Engine, a free program from Epic Games. Unreal Engine (UE for short) is a video game creation software and a physics engine. This coupled with the advancements in some other tech (spacial tracking, GPU acceleration, and photogrammetry) allows for the ability to create photo realistic worlds with a relatively low barrier of entry.
One of the things that has always drawn me to film and video is the storytelling possibilities that technology presents. Ever since sitting down at one of the original colorful iMacs, iMovie open, twenty some odd years ago, I’ve been searching for the boundaries one can push with new technologies. Those early days instilled in me a sense that the tech was a tool and that with enough play and experimentation one could use those tools to create some incredibly creative stories.
It’s in this mindset that we decided that our micro studio would embark on a mission to test the limits of this tech and see how we can utilize it in our indie and commercial projects to expand the possibilities of what we offer as well as *hopefully* achieve the kind of creative execution we only dreamed about before. At the end of April we’re going to have a four day studio shoot utilizing virtual production and the Unreal Engine. Our goal is to figure out how we can use this technology in our pre-existing workflows as well as create new ones. We’ve seen a lot of tests utilizing the processes geared towards higher budget productions, but not a ton for the smaller players like ourselves.
While we were making this investment in learning, we wanted to share what we discovered with collaborators and peers (knowledge is power!). We’re in no way experts on VP, but hopefully you can take some of the processes we’re ironing out and apply them to an upcoming project or begin to ideate on a new one based off of the possibilities virtual production offers.
Who is this blog for:
1. People interested in seeing how a virtual production comes together
2. Directors, Producers, and decision makers who could utilize virtual production.
3. Creatives who could expand their understanding of what’s possible.
We’ll be doing an update every week on how the process is going. Feel free to share with anyone in your network who you think might be interested.
Looking forward to sharing what we learn.