The Game-Changing Technology of Virtual Production – Part II

More on Virtual Production.

Read Part I

Added Realism

Let’s take a quick look at one of the great effects of Virtual Production that adds huge realism to any shots. Lighting.

Virtual Production eliminates a huge issue that VFX artists have to face, matching lighting in real footage and a virtual world. The issue is that light has colour and intensity, and if you’re not sure about the background that you are going to composite a green screen element onto, you won’t know what kind of light to use. 

Maybe you chose a background and set up a lighting situation but then you changed an element in the scene. That would have a huge impact on the lighting of the scene. 

You might set up the incorrect lights and have lighting that doesn’t match. Basically you have to set up lighting without knowing whether it will match the scene perfectly.

When you use Virtual Production, you will have physically correct lighting for the scene. Unfortunately you cannot change the background afterwards, but beside this, this lighting method is far better.

The reason for this is because of the use of LED panels. They emit colour and light and basically create a correct lighting set up. There is also a panel on the roof which is also emitting light. Because there is a 3D environment, we know all the light levels and colours. Because of this you can achieve super realistic lighting. Lighting is one of the most important parts of VFX and because Virtual Production has such great lighting capabilities and it saves a huge amount of time, filmmakers really love using it.

Past and Future Usage

Let’s take a look at some of the latest usage of Virtual Production. The main time that people really started talking about virtual production was around the time of the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian”. This project brought a lot of attention to this newer technology and honestly, I think it really deserved it. Virtual Production is one of the greatest innovations in the VFX industry that we’ve had in the last few years. The leading studio in the virtual production world is ILM or Industrial Light and Magic. This is a studio that has always been at the cutting edge of the entertainment and visual effects industry. The projects they have worked on range from the original Star Wars and Jurassic Park films to Avengers: Endgame.

They are known for their innovation and developed tools for films such as “Star Wars: A New Hope”. They certainly haven’t stopped now and one of their latest technologies is Virtual Production. In 2019, the first major project to use Virtual Production came out:”The Mandalorian”. This is not necessarily the first ever use, but it was the first to use it so well and extensively. Also it was one of the first times that the process was well documented and gained attention in the public.

Why VFX Artists (probably) aren’t about to lose their jobs

Since then, Virtual Production has become somewhat of a trend in the film and commercial industry. There are many reasons that people enjoy using this technology. It is quicker and often more realistic than traditional VFX methods like green screen.

There is, however, a major reason why it can’t entirely replace VFX at the moment. To find this reason, think about what Virtual Production does. Virtual Production is basically a background projection method and therefore deals with background elements. Visual Effects is not only about background elements, the foreground is almost as important. Virtual Production cannot create computer generated characters in the foreground of your scene(yet). Because of this, I don’t believe that Virtual Production will be coming for all VFX artists jobs. As time goes on, people wish to move from the physical to the virtual, and this is a great example. I believe that innovations like Virtual Production are why people still watch movies. Obviously they want to see the stories, but people get tired of the same ways of telling stories. Adding new ways to show new stories adds an element of excitement and wonder. There is nothing like coming home from a movie and saying,”How did they do that?”.

Something else to note is that Virtual Production is not cheap, it costs a lot of money to build or hire a setup. In some cases, it could be more expensive to use this technology than it would be to go to the location. With visual effects, we should be using effects when we can’t do anything else, realistically. It could be that our budget doesn’t allow us to go to the location, or that the location doesn’t exist and we can’t build a set in the studio. Virtual Production is a part of Visual Effects and the same principles apply. Just because there is a physical aspect to it, doesn’t mean that at the end of the day it isn’t just an effect. The word ‘Virtual’ literally appears in the name.

A great way to look at this new technology is to view it like technologies like Artificial Intelligence. It’s a great technology but there are some problems that you can face. Many people have created great stuff with AI and there’s no problem with that. In the future we will probably see a lot more of AI. How we use these new technologies is the deciding factor for whether it will be good or bad. There are, however, dangers which we will look at in the next chapter. 

When I talk about the problems and dangers, don’t think I am shunning the technology or trying to discourage its use. All that I wish for is moderation. Also, for those who think that virtual production will take artists’ jobs, all that virtual production really is doing is changing the order of operations. We still create the backgrounds, the difference is that we load them up during production instead of after.

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