Virtual production is one of the hottest new developments in film production and is now being used by many studios across the world.
Virtual production is the practice of combining virtual worlds with the real world to create exciting and beautiful film productions.
Virtual production covers a number of different techniques and uses many tools and methods.
We’ll go over some of the aspects of virtual production, some examples of ways it has been used, where the future lies for the technique, and how you can get involved.
Techniques of Virtual Production
The most popular style of virtual production involves using virtual game worlds as part of film production. The way this is done is by combining the virtual world and the real world, usually in real-time, in order to speed up production and create realistic visuals.
Using many different sets in a movie can be expensive, especially if the production needs to travel to reach them. With virtual production, these sets can be created in virtual space much more easily.
Plus, virtual sets can be quickly modified for layout, lighting, and more. The many different sets of a film can then be filmed in just one studio outfitted with a video screen that brings virtual spaces into the real world.
The video screens used in video production are large – much much larger than your average TV. They often span entire walls or multiple, and some studios even use one on the virtual ‘sky’.
These virtual sets are rendered in real-time with tools like Unreal Engine and Unity. These tools allow the studio to track the camera’s movement, and change the view in real-time, making the screens appear in perfect perspective.
By combining real and virtual worlds, directors can create a wide range of scenes, even fantastical worlds for sci-fi and fantasy productions. These shots are designed to be ready to use without needing to use techniques like a blue screen, which often produces less natural-looking shots.
With a well-thought-out virtual set, the background blends seamlessly into the real world, making for extremely convincing locations without having to even leave the studio.
This also has the benefit of making the world more realistic for actors. Even the best of actors are challenged when forced to act in empty blue rooms.
With virtual production, the actors are able to feel much more immersed in the world they are acting within, helping them give their best performance.
Similar techniques have actually been used in films for a long time, though with a simpler setup. In older movies, the background was projected on a screen behind the actors.
This was a common technique for things like driving scenes, where the background is not as important.
This older technique came with some limitations that virtual production helps to eliminate, such as the need for actors to avoid blocking the projected backdrop.
Other techniques that may also fall under virtual production include facial capture, motion capture (mocap) augmented reality, and more. In addition, the industry is constantly finding new ways to adapt film productions to new technology.
Why Is Virtual Production Becoming So Popular?
Virtual production has become increasingly popular in recent years, and will only continue to see more and more use. Just what makes virtual production such a popular tool?
One of the biggest reasons for this popularity is simply how advanced the technology involved has become. Real-time rendering technology has become increasingly realistic looking, and screens have become larger, sharper, and cheaper.
The simple fact is that virtual production on the large scale was simply not possible only a few years ago!
Another reason is the large number of productions being made every year. Hundreds of shows and movies are being made every year, and the standards of quality remain high.
Studios are always trying to push the visuals of their films while also keeping a reasonable budget. Virtual production helps to save time and money making it much easier for studios to reach their targets.
For these reasons and more, virtual production is a win-win for everyone. It makes films more affordable for studios, it makes production more versatile for creators, and it makes beautiful final products for fans to enjoy.
What Are The Downsides of Virtual Production?
We’ve covered the benefits of virtual production, but there are some downsides as well.
Firstly, virtual production is not going to work for every shot in every movie. For example, this technique is not ideal for shots requiring a lot of movement, as the camera can’t move beyond the video screens.
It is also not as viable for smaller spaces like interiors, though it can be used.
Another area where virtual production presents problems is post-production. While it can cut down on the visual effects workload, it also lacks flexibility once the footage has been shot. The design of CG elements will not be able to be as easily changed later on as they would be with a blue screen.
Another downside to virtual production is it can be very expensive for smaller productions. While there are some DIY ways to use virtual production, these don’t offer the same versatility as industry-level equipment.
Smaller movie studios can’t always justify the costs of the equipment required.
The Future of Virtual Production
Virtual production has proved to be a very useful tool in recent years, and things are only going to get better.
Live rendering technology is only getting better, as seen in many recent video games.
Techniques like ray tracing are now becoming quicker and easier to be rendered in real-time, allowing for even more convincing virtual worlds, and thus more convincing virtual productions.
Another future potential is the growing availability of virtual production tools. Just think that 40 years ago, digital cameras were restricted only to the most high-tech science labs, and now we all carry high-def digital cameras in our pockets.
Things like LED walls may become even less expensive, allowing smaller productions and even hobbyists to get involved.
Finally, there are many more potential uses for new technology in virtual production. For example, the process could be extended into audio, with entire soundscapes being played out in real time.
Maybe in the future, films will be fully virtual affairs, in which little or no post-production is required.
Another future could see AI technology being used to quickly generate realistic sets in no time at all. It may seem far-fetched, but we may even one day see the rise of convincing robotic actors in Hollywood!
Getting Involved in Virtual Production
Virtual production is a pretty multifaceted process, and there are numerous different roles involved. Virtual environment artists must first create the world of the film. This will usually be done with the direction of the art department.
If you know anything about video game development you know that building a virtual world is no small task, and can require many artists including modelers, animators, and even programmers.
On the film set itself nearly everyone can be involved in a virtual production. However, the most involved would be people like the cinematographer and director of photography. There is also a need for technicians on set who set up the virtual production equipment and ensure it’s working properly.
If you’re interested in working with virtual production, you could attempt to get an industry position, which may require an education in the field.
If you choose to pursue an education you should first decide which area you are interested in working on, be it set design, filmography, or something else. From there, you will need to apply for roles at film studios that are looking to use virtual productions on their films.
Though there are many roles available now, jobs involving virtual production will only become more common as the years go on.
If you aren’t interested in taking the “professional” route, it’s easier than ever to use virtual assets in DIY productions. For example, with a toolbox of free-to-use software like Blender, Unreal Engine, and Davinci Resolve you could begin experimenting with virtual production on your own projects.
There are hundreds of tutorials online to get you started with these tools, and the skills you learn may even help you to get a job in the industry after all.
Be it on the big screen or just your own projects, there is a lot of potential in the future of virtual production, and it is a very exciting and powerful new tool for all kinds of productions!
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