The Pulse: Revving up the filmmaking engine with virtual production

  • Nicholson shares that we came out of the chemical era, went into the digital era, and now we’re in the virtual era of filmmaking.

 The Pulse which is Epic Games’ new video series is diving into trends in real-time 3D across a variety of industries The format features a panel of industry experts, and includes a live Q&A open to those who register in advance. This first episode featured the nuts and bolts of virtual produciton In Virtual Production: The Transition to Real-Time Filmmaking, host Mike Seymour, Co-Founder of fxguide and Director of the Motus Research Lab, is joined by Sam Nicholson, ASC, CEO and Founder of Stargate Studios; Felix Jorge, CEO and Creative Director at Happy Mushroom; and Matt Madden, Director of Virtual Production at Epic Games. Having been the pioneers of the VFX industry,  panelists shined a light on various methods to improve imagery. In the episode, they share their inputs around virtual production and the way it is revving up the production process, with high-fidelity and photorealistic assets being rehashed from previz right through to post-production.

Clockwise from top left: Sam Nicholson, Matt Madden, Mike Seymour and Felix Jorge.

Madden shared,  “Producers are very interested in the idea of leveraging assets across multiple shows,” he said. “And because they’re photoreal assets now, they’re not just for previs or reference, that is very appealing to them.” “The idea that games have now become photoreal using Unreal Engine is a remarkable change, because now we’re seeing the literal blend—which we have all been predicting for years—of feature film and interactive gaming, and the same assets can be used in both, and they are being used in both [industries], both in visualization and production, and in post-production,” notes Nicholson. “So that’s the really exciting part: we’re seeing the blend of these two huge industries with a technology that glues it all together, and that is what’s happening in Unreal.”  Virtual production has brought post-production closer to preproduction with virtual art departments playing a crucial role.  George shares “Real-time virtual production has really changed the game for us,” he says. “All of a sudden, we can have our key creatives influence our sets in ways that they never did before. And so we use several different kinds of workflows for them to influence these worlds that they’re creating. Some of those include virtual location scouts, virtual pre-lights, and virtual blocking. Using these review workflows, they’re able to solve complex issues in creative ways before the day of the shoot.” With the overhaul of creative folks on the sets tossing in their inputs as to how the shot should look, it could also be overbearing for the VFX department. “These are people that generally work with headphones in isolation and concentrate in a black room,” notes Nicholson. “The difference between being a colourist in a perfect environment where everything works perfectly in post-production, and having real-time colour—we operate three DaVinci Resolves live on set with over 40 monitors, four cameras, and everything is real time—that’s the heat of the kitchen.” While there are few challenges, the merits of the this technology are ushering it right in the purview of filmmakers. There’s more flexibility in editorial too. Nicholson shares that we came out of the chemical era, went into the digital era, and now we’re in the virtual era of filmmaking. “Once we have photoreal virtual sets, if you need pickups, it’s easy,” says Nicholson. “Any set that you have can be recalled. And interestingly, for marketing the film, instead of what happens now, which is you strike your two million dollars’ worth of sets, and then the marketing team comes in six months later and says, ‘Well, we want to do something on that set,’ now we can bring those back and they’re much more valuable as virtual assets in the long run, which is why for television series and amortizable assets, this is a really, really strong card to play,” he shares.