I remember the first time I experienced this potential of VR firsthand. My company, The-Artery, was working on a traditional CG car campaign for Mercedes-Benz and I suggested a different approach — treat the campaign as a film rather than the usual CG job. This meant bringing in a seasoned team of filmmakers with backgrounds in cinematography, editorial, VFX and technology to tell stories instead of building a team of only digital artists. Keep in mind, these were still the early days and VR technology was not quite ready for this kind of experimental approach. It was only because of our history with Nurulize, a realtime collaborative VR software startup, and our VFX supervisor Rob Moggach’s deep knowledge of their beta software, that we were able to do the impossible — shoot a commercial as a traditional film crew, only in a virtual environment.
Since then, things have only gotten better. Obviously, we are still in the early days of virtual production, but it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of different technologies converging together with the benefits and capabilities increasing exponentially. Just think, James Cameron used early prototypes of virtual cameras for Avatar, but just a few years later, we’re able to apply those ideas in VR, allowing multiple creatives to walk into a fully virtual environment from anywhere around the globe and elevate the collaborative experience. What might tomorrow hold? Imagine a paradigm shift that could completely change the future of content and collaboration, positioning VR as the future of production.
From a production standpoint, the collaborative benefits of creating in VR are endless. But from a CG standpoint, there are a few other interesting benefits that are often overlooked.
The most essential improvement was the better use of time. Working on the Mercedes-Benz project, it was shocking to experience the impact of a high-end crew only being focused on the shots. That meant no phones or other distractions. This benefit is a holdover from traditionally-shot projects. Normally, on a live-action shoot, wasted time is taken more seriously as everyone understands that every second counts. Meanwhile, in CG, the overall philosophy is that you can always revise, fix and change anything. Flexibility like this is a good safety net, but less beneficial as a methodology when you’re paying CG artists by the hour. Virtual productions seem to encourage a dynamic, more focused process, which I consider a great benefit in harvesting the best results more quickly and efficiently.
Then, there are the other costs. With VR productions, there are obvious savings on every line item. Imagine no need to travel, no permits, no wait time between setups and no weather delays, as well as smaller crews and locations that are always available. Even better, with VR, all equipment exists forever once you program it into the system, so any acquisition, maintenance and storage costs are significantly lower.
Replicating the real-world experience of filmmaking is paramount for creatives to operate in the virtual world and the platform offers the possibility of integrating everything from camera bodies to the anamorphic lenses, answering creative requests in realtime. Additionally, lighting, production design and performance can be set up well ahead of time by individual designers as opposed to a specific shoot day. Need costly reshoots or pick up shots? In VR, they are always an affordable option. The list goes on.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Creating in VR doesn’t have a familiar-enough workflow yet, so there are bound to be missteps along the way. That’s why it’s important that everyone be as educated as possible before production begins — with pre-production laid out and every aspect of the workflow exposed and discussed before a single frame is “shot.” As long as everyone has trust in the process, the transition from one medium to the other is seamless and nothing is lost.
The Future of Production
The rise of VR production is an eventuality. One only needs to look at Sony Pictures Entertainment’s recent acquisition of Nurulize to see where things are heading now. That’s why it’s important to not only be open to a VR production mind set, but also to put together a team of filmmakers who are similarly ready for the challenge. Over the years, I’ve learned that the right collaborators are the most important consideration when trying something new.
The production space is no stranger to the constant pace of innovation and VR is no different. In fact, VR may be evolving faster than expected. Even now, everything we’ve had to “hack” together for the Mercedes-Benz project is now already available and integrated into the current VR tools. The next steps of adding volumetric capture, greenscreen and motion-capture tools are right around the corner. It’s time to stop catering to the past and start being more engaged in the limitless future of virtual production. So celebrate, evaluate and dive in.
Vico Sharabani is the founder/Director of The-Artery.