/News 04.02.21


Virtual production is the promised land. With growing convergence between film and games, Mod has amazing potential to bring stories to life with computers.

There is growing realisation among film and TV producers that the capabilities of virtual production go far beyond simply replicating reality. Behind the scenes, virtual production has led to new ways to make the process of filming itself more interactive. Even with shows that look like traditional productions, where there may not be any obvious CG elements, there could be a wealth of digital tools in use by the production team.

When Disney was making the new Lion King, they spent next to no time shooting on location in Africa. There is literally only one live action shot in the film. Nonetheless they ended up with a set comprising 150 kilometres of virtual Africa to play with. It was a world where they could location scout with just a VR head mounted display. They could line up shots, explore, and achieve all kinds of live action tracking around the environment where the story takes place.

That’s one example of virtual production in action. Another has been the use of LED walls to create a “volume”. Think of a volume as creating a room from a collection of TV screens (LED panels). This provides new creative options for set designers. They can still go to town and create physical structures but it is now possible to supplement the design in areas where surfaces around the actors are video walls. The content on those walls comes straight from real-time engines like our current favourites, UE4 and TouchDesigner.

The COVID acceleration

Throughout 2020, we saw a noticeable uptake in virtual production. With travel severely curtailed, studios of all sizes have had to rethink their workflow. We have enjoyed more opportunities in virtual world design and production as customers look further afield for vendors with the right experience.

A highlight last year was proving that we could design, produce and direct a virtual production on the other side of the world. We helped The Simpsons and Spinal Tap star, Harry Shearer make music videos from lockdown in his home in LA. It is not always essential to have all your collaborators on location and recent constraints have fast tracked greater acceptance of that approach.

Improvement in real-time graphics and audio has been gradual but stunning and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. In major media and entertainment hubs globally there is a buildup of infrastructure and experience, allowing both indie and major productions to rent virtual production facilities by the day or hour. 

Early adopters will have the advantage

Virtual production is all about giving storytellers more options to create engaging results. Pointing at big Disney shows is an easy way to explain virtual production but it is not one size fits all. There are certainly techniques that are more expensive than others, like LED volumes, but an indie studio like Mod can work in this space alongside far larger companies and in many cases purchase the exact same equipment.

While the investment in virtual production may initially be daunting, the costs are offset by savings in many areas beyond travel, including lighting and camera setups, weather interruptions and the all-important capacity to see something closer to the final result while still on-set.

Virtual Production returns us to a time when all the creative decision makers were in the room at the same time, creating the final product together. Everyone can walk away saying “That completed scene is great”, rather than “I wonder what that will look like after 6 months in post”. We have an exciting new creative sandbox that helps departments work together.

While it is great to have an umbrella term like virtual production, there are learning opportunities about how these new techniques can be tailored to different types of productions. And that’s an exciting challenge.

As a director, my mission is to communicate a vision. Virtual production provides a wealth of creative and technology tools for doing just that. Translating big ideas into affordable and feasible solutions, not just for large productions, is what it’s all about.

Find out more about:

Michela Ledwidge
[email protected]