Image courtesy of ICG IATSE Local 600

Virtual production reaches new levels across the entire M&E industry

May 16, 2023
This month, we’re reflecting on the incredible growth of virtual production across film, TV, animation, broadcast, and live events, and taking the opportunity to bring you a new line-up of events, Spotlights, and helpful resources. Let’s kick things off by looking at where we’ve arrived at today.

Just a couple of years ago, aside from its use for real-time graphics in broadcast, virtual production was only for those intrepid filmmakers and visionary directors living right on the bleeding edge, like Avatar’s James Cameron and The Lion King’s Jon Favreau.

Today, it’s taking the industry by storm!

Across the globe, both live-action and fully animated film and television projects are realizing its benefits across the entire production process, while broadcast is embracing the new ability to deliver cinematic-quality real-time graphics on air, and live sports and music events are wowing audiences with AR and MR experiences and stunning synchronized light shows. Wherever you look across the industry, virtual production is going next level. And Unreal Engine and its ecosystem of tools are right at its core.
 

The virtual production toolset in Unreal Engine continues to evolve with every release. Unreal Engine 5.2, just released, delivers enhancements to the VCam system that offer filmmakers greater scope for creative decision-making during pre-production, plus extended nDisplay support for SMPTE 2110. And coming very soon for iPad via the Apple App Store, a new iOS app for in-camera VFX (ICVFX) stage operations will offer an intuitive touch-based interface for stage operations such as color grading, light card placement, and nDisplay management tasks from anywhere within the LED volume. You can find out more about everything that’s new in the UE 5.2 announce blog.

Unreal Engine is just one part of the virtual production landscape that sees camera tracking, compositing, virtual cameras, and performance capture solutions all working in concert. Sometimes, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? If that’s a question you have, keep your eye out for a great new resource coming later this month.
Image courtesy of Alter Ego, Pixomondo, William F. White, Virtual Production Academy, and Caledon FC
The benefits of adoption are undeniable. Real-time visualization can aid the creative process before, during, and after principal photography; team members from all stages of production are now having conversations earlier and collaborating in the creation of assets, starting with the Art and Light/Camera departments. Meanwhile on-set virtual production (also known as in-camera VFX or ICVFX) on an LED stage can result in final pixels actually being created on the shoot, or at least in a greatly reduced need for post-production.

We’re also seeing the use of game engines and real-time workflows encourage a more iterative style of filmmaking as visionary technologists and creatives are pushing to achieve a higher level of fidelity at all stages of virtual productions—meaning the same assets can be reused and refined rather than thrown away. And that leads to additional opportunities to leverage IP by delivering immersive and transmedia content alongside linear.

While virtual production is becoming more and more sophisticated, with the highest-end setups costing millions of dollars, technology is increasingly becoming democratized, with low-cost and even free alternatives making it accessible to small studios and indie filmmakers. The coming resource will show you how you can get started with just a modest outlay.
 

Celebrating an innovative and talented VP community

Of course, virtual production’s success lies not just in the technology behind it, but also in the amazing community of creators who have driven its evolution, finding new and exciting ways to use it to enhance their craft as they push the limits with each new project. Many creators are only just starting to understand the full potential of virtual production to transform both the creative process and the end results, and to realize what’s possible today.

Across the spectrum, from big-budget Hollywood studios to indie talent, creators are pushing virtual production to new heights in live-action film and television, animated content, and broadcast and live events. Let’s take a look at a few recent examples that span these genres:
 

Brave Creatures

Animated short directed by Adam Valdez
Go behind the scenes of the mesmerizing animated short Brave Creatures with Director Adam Valdez, as he explains how his team used virtual production techniques combined with path tracing in Unreal Engine to pull off this beautiful piece.
 

Caledon FC commercial

TV commercial created with ICVFX
See how Pixomondo and partners cut costs—not quality—with an LED volume-based commercial for the Caledon Football Club. This CG stadium and 18,000 real-time crowd agents are all running out of Unreal Engine, but you’d never know it. 
 

FOX NFL Sunday

Live multicam broadcast graphics in an ICVFX volume
Two years ago, lensing a live multicam show on an LED volume was impossible. Now, FOX Sports can do it anytime they want. Discover how the team built a groundbreaking virtual production studio for their NFL pregame show.
 

Cory Strassburger’s Xanadu

Indie YouTube series featuring performance-driven character animation
Meet Cory Strassburger, visual effects artist and one-man-band creator of Xanadu, a YouTube series that uses Unreal Engine, MetaHuman Creator, and some amazing performance capture tech to deliver a truly unique offering.
 

These are just a few case studies that demonstrate the breadth of virtual production’s potential. Hungry for more? You can browse all of our virtual production Spotlights on our blog. And get ready for some brand-new ones coming your way in the coming weeks.
 

Stay tuned!

We’ll bring you more up-to-the-minute news, inspiring new case studies, and helpful resources throughout the month. Bookmark our Virtual Production Hub, where we’ll post all the new content, and sign up for our newsletter below to stay in the loop.

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