Virtual Production – A Renaissance Has Begun

Video and film have entered a new era, and virtual production lies at the heart of this renaissance.

The technology that’s ignited this change has existed for a while, but it hasn’t been on everyone’s radar until the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed the globe.

The new decade and its challenges have pushed people, across all industries, to adapt to the new normal.

And although collaborative video editing tools—that allow people to work on projects remotely—have been present, virtual production unfurls a whole new world of possibilities.

If you look up #virtualproduction on LinkedIn, you’ll realize how it has caught on. Take a look at this recent job post. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?


virtual video production job

Via LinkedIn


To examine the burgeoning virtual production trend a bit closer, we’ll take a look at the following:

  • The video game technology that’s made virtual production possible
  • Virtual video production (the industry MotionCue is most concerned with)
  • Virtual film production
  • Impact on the production industry
  • Opportunities and challenges


Video game technology – a literal game-changer

Powerful video game engines are responsible for visual disruption and have made virtual production possible.

Unreal Engine, developed by Epic Games, lauds itself as “the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D creation tool”.

The technology has been used on massive projects, such as Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and more, and has helped Hollywood with virtual world-building, performance capture, etc.

Here’s a walkthrough of how Unreal Engine has helped shape The Mandalorian.



Check out this useful virtual production field guide if you’re interested in learning more.

Other impressive gaming engines in the VR space include Unity and Blender.

It’s important to note that these companies are not all based in or near Hollywood. For example, Cary, North Carolina is home to Epic Games, while Blender is based in Amsterdam.

This just goes to show how VR production and remote collaboration are collapsing geographic barriers within the industry.

Now, the sky’s the limit.

This technology is exciting from a virtual storytelling perspective, too. At this point, the stories you tell are only limited by your imagination.


Virtual video production

People keep finding new ways to collaborate and push the envelope when it comes to their creative pursuits. Founded in 2004, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s online collaborative media platform, HitRecord, is a great example of this.

The enthusiasm for global teamwork has always been there. And although the increasing shift toward virtual production is an indirect consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, it was naturally the next frontier in this line of business.

Now, producers can complete live-action videos without having too many people packed on set.

And what’s more exciting is that you could have VFX artists from another time zone create digital landscapes of real or fictional locations.

Then, film your actors in a studio, and—according to Kris Murray, the VP of technology at LUX Machina—“track the camera’s position and space in real-time and render its perspective”.


virtual video production - unreal engine

Credits: Unreal Engine – Watch the full video 


The ability to manipulate the digital set and its virtual elements in real-time, all while your actor’s in position, is remarkable!


Combining actors with a digital set

If you’re wondering how to place your actor into a digital set, there are two ways of doing it.

  1. Use a green screen or blue screen and position your actor appropriately.

Then, replace the green screen with your desired backdrop using a software.

This method is more affordable but can’t get you the sort of results you could achieve from what we’ll talk about next.

Related: 7 Green Screen Mistakes and How to Fix Them

  1. Instead of green screens, position your actor in front of LED panels. Though this method is more expensive, the results are far more impressive (this is the technique we are referring to in this post).

Here’s a video from Per Kasch that’ll help you understand the idea of virtual video production with LED panels. It shows how boundless this method is and its potential for virtual storytelling.

(If you can’t view the video, try turning off your adblocker)



Virtual film production

The pandemic has hit Hollywood hard.

As of writing this piece, Warner Bros.’ The Batman and Paramount Pictures’ Mission Impossible 7 had to stop shooting because of the events that have unfolded. New production dates are not yet available.

All the head honchos in la-la land are scrambling to figure out how to keep the show going.

Statista states that as of March 2020, the global film industry has lost seven billion U.S. dollars.

Amidst all the chaos and confusion, there appears to be a ray of hope: The Untitled Horror Movie is being hailed as the first film to be written, directed, and produced during the great quarantine of 2020.

The directors provided the socially-distanced actors their own ‘filming kits’ and then instructed them on how to shoot their scenes themselves. Editors later combined the footage in post.

According to the cast and crew, no quarantine rules were broken during the filming of this movie. Quite a remarkable achievement for a group of independent filmmakers.

Though this is another great example of remote collaborative production, it is severely limiting.

Virtual production, again, is becoming the most viable solution to the film industry’s woes. But Hollywood isn’t a stranger in this realm.

For the 2009 blockbuster Avatar, James Cameron used a virtual camera system that would show, in real-time, the actors’ virtual doppelgangers in the digital environment.

This allowed the director to adjust and direct scenes in the virtual space.



Now, desperate to get the cameras rolling again, film producers might be willing to lean more into virtual production.

So, how would all of this transform the film and video production industries? Let’s talk about that.


Impact on the production industry


Global collaboration

Virtual production would allow teams across the world to work on massive projects. Again, knocking those geographic barriers down.


Reduced travel time and cost

Although this method of production is expensive, it eliminates the need to scout for filming locations and then traveling to those destinations with an entire village of cast and crew members. This saves a lot of time and can reduce costs, too.


Shoot anywhere

There will be no limits to where you can and can’t shoot. That’s great news for small production teams with modest budgets.


A safer environment for cast and crew

The production industry will have to follow strict guidelines because of the pandemic. And going virtual will make it easier to follow SOPs. Directors could film the actors separately in studios and then reunite them digitally.

This will make the set safer for everyone involved in the production process.


Multimedia studios may step in

Multimedia studios working with game engines could play a major role in helping Hollywood adapt to virtual production quicker.

Rebellion Studios, a UK-based company, is in the process of producing movie content backed by its video game engine.

They can create digital environments that production teams can handle easily on set.

Lighting can be adjusted remotely and actors, once motion-captured, can be swapped in and out of virtual scenes.


Reduced time in post-production

The ability to create and manipulate digital elements simultaneously with live-action performances will reduce the amount of work that needs to be done in post-production.


Limited extras

The number of background actors may decrease. This was bound to happen because of COVID-19 but with the amount of work each frame would need in virtual production, filmmakers and producers may opt to reduce the number of extras for shoots.

Read more: What Are the Steps Involved in Creating an Animated Film?

Virtual production is an exciting development, one that will bring with it loads of opportunities and unique challenges.

Let’s take a look at what the future might hold.




Green screens dethroned?

Stargate Studios, a USA-based studio founded in 1989, is a full-service production company that can create final pixels on set with ThruView.



The setup relies on 4K screens, interactive footage, and connected lighting supported with real-time rendering.

All of this technology eliminates the need for green screens, to some extent, and the outcome looks far more superior.


The emperor’s new (virtual) clothes

VR and AR have already entered the world of fashion. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that costume rentals could eventually digitally capture their outfits and present them in a virtual library to profit off their inventory via licensing.

This could help producers save plenty of resources when it comes to costume designing.

This video gives a sense of how the tech could work. And though the focus right now is on retail, alternative uses may catch on.



Location and object libraries

Virtual worlds are one of the most exciting aspects of this new type of production. As the trend gains momentum, we could see a library of virtual worlds, locations, and objects crop up.

Popular environments, landmarks, or well-known sites may strike exclusive deals with certain libraries.

Video producers could then purchase licenses and shoot within the environments for a fraction of the cost.

So, whether it’s Machu Picchu, Antarctica, Mars, or a castle in a fictional land. Any world could be within your reach. And objects, such as the Trojan horse, could be up for grabs, too!



Digital copies of actors

This could change the way production companies hire and work with talent.

Actors could be scanned at the start of production and these ‘digital copies’ or avatars could then be used as backups for any more shots that the team might need to complete a project.

The technology that could make this a reality is well underway.

This, of course, opens a whole new can of worms. Rights to these digital representations will have to be secure and heavily restricted to avoid misuse, malpractice, etc.

Read more: 10 Copyright Laws Every Video Producer Should Know About



Virtual production is promising but it comes with a set of challenges, too. For now, these are the most common ones.




Overcoming the learning curve

Since the technology behind virtual production is constantly evolving, mastering it could be a challenge for newcomers.

For those who want to adopt it, they’d have to adjust to a different workflow; receive adequate training, and gain plenty of hands-on experience.


Cost barrier

We’ve mentioned throughout the piece that virtual production can be expensive. So, it may be out of reach for some.

But the technology is getting more inexpensive each year. Eventually, it will become an attractive and feasible option for small production teams.


The bottom line

Virtual production is set to give creators more freedom on projects and is the next leap forward, which is very exciting. But don’t let the fancy technology take precedence over a good story.

Great storytelling still is, and will always be, the star of the show. Everything else is just a supporting character.

Read more: Tips on Becoming Better at Storytelling

For now, MotionCue hasn’t entered the realm of virtual video production. But if you’re in the market for an animated or live-action video for your business, be sure to hit us up.

Our video strategists would love to help you out!

Want a video for your business?


Posted by Maria Saif

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