New VR sys­tem aims to re­place on-site film­ing

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Los An­ge­les

On a sound­stage no big­ger than a large bed­room a cam­era­man takes up var­i­ous an­gles to film a he­li­copter that isn’t there, land­ing on a field that isn’t there ei­ther.

Un­til re­cently, vir­tual re­al­ity was the pre­serve of the gam­ing crowd but pro­duc­ers say the tech­nol­ogy is on the cusp of a boom that could change for­ever the way tele­vi­sion is done.

Lead­ing the charge is vis­ual ef­fects stu­dio CBS Dig­i­tal, which has de­vel­oped Par­al­lax, a VR sys­tem that could po­ten­tially do away with on-lo­ca­tion film­ing al­to­gether.

The com­pany has laser­scanned parts of the United States, over­lay­ing the ge­og­ra­phy with hi-res­o­lu­tion im­ages to pro­duce fully ex­plorable, 3-Dvir­tual sets into which real actors can be em­bed­ded.

Back at CBS Tele­vi­sion City in Los An­ge­les, two actors can ex­change a di­a­logue in a room cov­ered with green screens and op­ti­cal-track­ing cam­eras dot­ting the ceil­ing.

But what the showrun­ner sees on his cam­era screen is his two stars walk­ing hand-in­hand around a photo-re­al­is­tic Eif­fel Tower or lean­ing over a per­fectly ren­dered Ni­a­gara Falls.

“The big­gest ad­van­tage is to take away tra­di­tional re­stric­tions that film­mak­ers come up against,” Craig Weiss, executive cre­ative direc­tor of CBS Dig­i­tal, says dur­ing a visit to the stu­dio.

“And that would be the ar­du­ous task of go­ing to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, shoot­ing in the mid­dle of the night. You’re able to bring the world to the stage, have a lot more flex­i­bil­ity and get more work done.”

The prob­lems Par­al­lax solves for film and tele­vi­sion mak­ers are nu­mer­ous. But the most im­por­tant per­haps is cash — or not hav­ing enough of it to bring ideas to life on the screen.

A big pro­por­tion of any production bud­get goes on se­cur­ing lo­ca­tions and film­ing in them. The costs spi­ral when you have to wait un­til it stops rain­ing, or un­til the light ex­actly matches yes­ter­day’s shoot.

The vir­tual sets be­ing made avail­able by Par­al­lax al­low di­rec­tors to get through some­thing like three weeks’ worth of tra­di­tional lo­ca­tion work in a day, says the stu­dio. The size of film crews, too, can be cut by half.

“After an ini­tial in­vest­ment ... the cost of us­ing a vir­tual set can, in some cases, lit­er­ally save 100 per­cent of the costs of on-lo­ca­tion shoot­ing,” says CBS Dig­i­tal executive pro­ducer Ge­orge Bloom.

Bloom, who was vice-pres­i­dent of cre­ative con­tent at Walt Dis­ney Pic­tures and has 14 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a direc­tor, says Par­al­lax hands con­trol back to the film­maker.

“When you’re a direc­tor, some­times you feel like you don’t have con­trol be­cause you’re throw­ing all this vi­sion that you have into a vis­ual ef­fects com­pany’s hands,” he says.

“You have no idea what it’s go­ing to look like un­til five or 10 days later.”

Fox’s The LastMan on Earth and ABC’s Amer­i­can House­wife have both started us­ing Par­al­lax.

CBS Dig­i­tal al­ready pro­vides a va­ri­ety of cut­ting edge vis­ual ef­fects for Ama­zon’s Trans­par­ent as well as Net­flix orig­i­nals Dare­devil, Stranger Things and Jes­sica Jones.

The only re­stric­tions on whatVR­can achieve for tele­vi­sion is the lim­its of the hu­man imag­i­na­tion, it says.

The tech­nol­ogy is in its in­fancy al­though de­vel­op­ing fast, and for CBS Dig­i­tal, the im­pli­ca­tions for tele­vi­sion could hardly be more pro­found.

The even­tual goal is that anyone with a good idea and the req­ui­site sto­ry­telling skills — re­gard­less of their ac­cess to big bud­gets — will have “Hol­ly­wood in a box”, says Bloom.

“A sound­stage is just a nice, com­fort­able place to work, but it can be Paris, New York, the fu­ture,” says Bloom.

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