already are, Garry conducted a survey polling 220 people working in VFX for indie films. Predictably, After Effects, Maya and Nuke ranked among the most popular programs. “Very few people mentioned real-time game engines like Unity or Unreal,” Garry continues. “If you want to hire people who know these tools, you’ll have to recruit game developers. This won’t be the case in the future, so more indie productions can actually utilise these tools with setready talent.”
Production studio Flipbook is currently developing toolsets to make virtual production more useful in their day-to-day work.
They hope that these toolsets will allow a director, DOP or producer on set to be able to change the lighting, camera angles, speed of travel and other elements of the background in real time. “We want the same creative direction afforded to a typical set, but virtual,” explains Ben Haworth, the studio’s co-founder and creative director. “The problem is virtual production isn’t as simple as it may seem, there’s a steep learning curve that needs the right expertise. A truly user-friendly interface that makes it accessible, makes it usable, will change everything and speed up adoption.”
Flipbook is ideally placed to see virtual production changing the way creatives think of postproduction and on-set production. “It opens up the CGI side of things to directors and provides an opportunity for more creative input into the content. Directors will be able to use tools they understand,” adds Haworth. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in travel restrictions across the globe, in turn leading to less location shoots for film and television. “With virtual production, you can send a camera crew out to a location to film and then display it on an LED instead,” Haworth continues. “But one of the biggest long-term benefits is the reduction in cost. The cost of sending a small crew to a location is so much less for what is potentially the same effect, there’s so much less equipment needed.
“WE WANT THE SAME CREATIVE DIRECTION AFFORDED TO A TYPICAL SET, BUT VIRTUAL” Ben Haworth, co-founder and creative director, Flipbook
We also have to think about the environmental benefits less travel provides too, something that all productions will need to factor in as we move forward.”
For compositors, virtual production techniques can cut down weeks of time in postproduction that would usually be spent on the intricacies of green screen compositing, because everything is already in-camera. “The impact for on-set direction will be the most disruptive change to the creative side of things. CG will now directly impact the way things are shot at the time of filming, altering creative decisions during the early stages of production,” says Haworth.
“The challenge for any director is being able to acquire a full understanding of the UE4 engine and learn how to get hands-on. A lack of technical knowledge is truly one of the biggest barriers, and once again, it’s why we’re trying to overcome it with an enhanced toolset,” he continues. “We want creatives to achieve what they want without having to spend hours on set altering the backgrounds. It’s not as easy as it looks, despite it often being sold as such.”
Haworth also anticipates the continued expansion of virtual production’s use. “Unreal 5 is due out pretty soon and that will change things massively,” he says. “Graphics cards are improving rapidly too. The price of this technology will start to decrease and virtual production will take off, particularly in live events. But eventually, I think it will seep down into all elements of production because it has the potential to enhance any workflow.”