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A bit like its consumer cousin VR, there is surely no bigger buzzword in the film industry right now than Virtual Production. A true revolution in the making. But what exactly is it? Why should brands and storytellers take special note? And most importantly right now, how can it help keep video production going in these uncertain times?

“…a series of techniques that allow the
physical and digital worlds to meet.
Allowing things to be filmed which are either practically difficult, or impossible to do
in real-life

For those looking beyond the lockdown… virtual production has reached a tipping point: for marketeers and filmmakers who are willing to adopt early, there is a huge opportunity to use Virtual Production to tell bigger and bolder stories. And all for the same budget. More on this later.

Let’s take a closer look…

So what is Virtual Production?

Defining exactly what it is can be tricky. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint Virtual Production to any one thing. Or any one particular breakthrough. It’s made up of many different parts and technologies, comprising many different techniques and levels. Its roots lie in the visual effects industry (VFX), and for the more technically minded, it tends to include:

• Pre-visualisation (pre-viz, tech-viz, stunt-viz, post-viz)
• Performance capture
• Virtual sets
• Real-time compositing
• Hybrid greenscreen compositing
• LED walls and lighting

Hybrid green screen composting with realtime virtual set

At its heart, and most simply put: it is a series of techniques that allow the physical and digital worlds to meet. Allowing things to be filmed which are either practically difficult, or impossible to do in real-life. It can also save time and money in the process.

There is nothing particularly new about VFX. It’s been around for decades. What we’re really talking about here, is the next generation of VFX. The technology has now become so fast, and so ubiquitous, that in a lot of cases its now easier to implement than filming the real thing – capable of delivering photorealism in real-time. And most recently, with interactive digital sets and LED studios, with no post-production required at all.

LED walls and realtime virtual sets to deliver “final pixel” in camera – no post-production required!

People often associate VFX (CGI especially) with the loudest examples; transforming robots, the latest apocalyptic blockbuster, or jeeps being chased by an ill-tempered T-Rex. But many would be surprised how many VFX shots are used in TV programmes like Downton Abbey, Fleabag, or The Crown. From seamlessly augmenting their stories, to creating entire digital sets… all quietly invisible to the audience. A mundane car park can be turned into an epic crowd scene, or entire period locations created digitally in 3D.

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What’s so exciting, is that you no longer need a Hollywood budget to achieve these things. Virtual Production empowers modern filmmakers to new creative heights.

How can VP help in the current situation?

While restrictions on filming and travel have impacted much of ‘traditional’ filmmaking, the benefits of Virtual Production can be used to overcome some of the current restrictions. The possibilities are literally endless, but a few topline practical applications might be:

• Create entire digital 3D sets to replicate traditional ‘live’ locations
• Send a 1 man crew to anywhere in the world to shoot “background plates”
• Actors can then be digitally inserted into either of these environment
• Augmenting scenes by using thousands of “Digital Extras”
• Filming actors separately (adhering to minimum distances) and then bringing them back together in the same scene.

But the opportunities don’t end there…

Beyond the lockdown… why is VP such a big opportunity for brands?

As a video production agency, Aspect has always been a firm believer in innovation and embracing new production techniques. And having put much of it through testing and RnD over the last few years, it’s tempting to talk more about technology here. Afterall, its technology that is powering this revolution.

However Virtual Production isn’t about technology – not really – it actually comes back to good old-fashioned storytelling. And this is really the crux of why this production revolution should matter to marketeers. Simply put: virtual production allows the scope and scale of storytelling to expand. For brands to tell bigger and more ambitious creative stories… for the same budget.

Side by Side example of Virtual Production & VFX for Branded Content Production

For the first time, we’ve reached a tipping point: It used to be the case that the time and cost of creating photorealistic digital sets (CGI), would out way the cost of doing it for real, or sending a small crew to X country to film that all important scene. But thanks to game engines like Unreal Engine, real-time GPU rendering, scanned assets libraries like Megascans, and real human motion captured extras from Anima, the process and time involved in making these digital worlds has never been quicker.

“…we’ve reached a budget tipping point

A high-end lifestyle apartment can be created to the perfect specification, in less time than it takes a location scout to recce and source real-life options. Directors, creatives and clients can don a VR headset and walk around these digital sets, planning shots, blocking action, and moving walls to their heart’s content. This all requires skill and talent obviously, but the technology is empowering artists, removing many of the technical and logistical barriers that used to exist, allowing for quicker iterations and learning. Even the famously ‘hard to learn’ and market leading CGI software Houdini, is getting progressively more artist friendly.

For brands who want to make budgets stretch further, and who want to differentiate by telling more creatively ambitious stories, this quiet revolution will have hugely valuable reverberations.

In the meantime, let’s keep video rolling.

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