By Adrian Pennington, IBC.org
“Virtual production technology has reached a new level of sophistication and many productions are now being written with a Volume in mind. However, it is not right for all stories and some tech gremlins remain, writes Adrian Pennington.
LED volumes for the production of in-camera visual effects (ICVFX) are now a maturing technology, according to a post-IBC show report by Futuresource Consulting.
The report also concludes that virtual production (VP) and extended reality (XR) have gone past the “hype phase” of their development, with the performance of systems now being refined and the technology becoming accessible to more users.
A key factor in this is increased ease of use, with installations no longer reliant on a technical team with specific, specialised technical skills to operate the equipment. Manufacturers are now producing VP systems that are not as challenging to run, with software and firmware upgrades appearing on a regular basis to enhance the production of content on LED volumes.
ARRI Stage London is seeing this trend first hand. Filmmakers who have used an LED wall are returning with the understanding of what it can do, and significantly, are now working from scripts written for virtual production.
“Productions know they can save money using virtual production,” said Rob Payton, production specialist, ARRI Solutions. “The big shift in mindset is filmmakers are now thinking of the technology as a tool to create things they were previously unable to. The best results we see now stem from scripts written for the volume.”
The Chemical Brothers’ promo for their latest single ‘Live Again’ is a prime example. Produced by Outsider with directing duo dom&nic, the promo follows a dancer emerging from her trailer into a series of environments—with several scene transitions taking place live, within one continuous shot.
After the initial rush into VP and a period of “learning by doing”, confidence in the technology has grown. Instead of feeling confined in a tech-led space, Payton believes filmmakers now appreciate the LED volume for its creative freedom and production efficiency.
“There were some misconceptions that the whole look would be controlled by a VP supervisor and VFX,” he said. “But once cinematographers have experienced the workflow, they realise they retain complete creative control over the imagery.”
ICVFX: Virtual Production – Test and learn
Whilst some DPs might be on their second round of VP work, most filmmakers need to ‘try before they buy’ into the technology. It is why new VP spaces operated by Sony in Pinewood, by Anna Valley in West London and by kit hire firm CVP in Fitzrovia are primarily for training purposes. They give producers and DPs an idea of what to expect and test out scenarios.
“Systems are more interoperable with each other than they were a couple of years ago but issues do remain,” said Callum Buckley, Technical Consultant, CVP. “We can provide guidance for users to help them understand whether product ‘A’ work wells with product ‘B’ and we can advise on whether their budget is being spent wisely.”
“We see it as a fantastic tool but it is not the be all and end all for a production,” reported Anthony Gannon, COO, Garden Studios which has hosted over 85 productions at its Volume stages ranging from adverts to multi-cam drama. “It’s not as expensive as it was and the market has become more competitive.”
The rate card for a day on Garden’s Volume stage is around £10K which also includes the studio’s full service. It will advise on whether a project is actually more suitable for a conventional studio. “It’s important to understand what is realistically achievable,” said Gannon. “VP has to be fit for purpose.” Continue reading