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Virtual production-The game changer

Visualization can help enhance planning, increasing shooting efficiency and reducing the occurrence of expensive reshoots. Reshoots are common with high-budget films and can account for 5 to 20 percent, and sometimes more of the final production cost.

Visual effects (VFX) costs on a high-budget sci-fi or fantasy film can be as high as 20 percent of the total film budget; shooting against an LED wall significantly reduces postproduction VFX costs like compositing and rotoscoping and helps filmmakers get ready for test screening more quickly.

Virtual production may also have cost benefits further downstream from principal photography, LED volumes and virtual sets can be used by marketing teams to shoot commercials, and VFX assets can be reused for sequels, subsequent seasons, and other media. While reusing digital assets is not impossible today, it’s not the norm.

With the advent of artificial intelligence, virtual production technology has witnessed significant improvements in the quality of its computer-generated graphics. Design and visualization of all complex scenes in a three-dimensional model have become convenient, further editing and reviewing in a real-time environment.

The technology positively impacts the market by reducing the transportation and logistics costs of crew members and equipment. It enables filmmakers to capture on-set live-action scenes through simul-cams or virtual cameras and seamlessly merge computer-generated 3D graphic elements with the film’s live shooting footage to conclude with the final visual effects.

Furthermore, artificial intelligence facilitates pre-production support that helps to accelerate video production work. In the previous decade, pre-production works heavily relied on unstructured box office data and limited demographic information related to viewers, leading to less engaging video content development. However, now artificial intelligence can generate insights from large data sets collected from various platforms to understand the proposed content’s acceptance and interest.

For example, Netflix creates video content based on accurate, personalized recommendations and observations of its users’ behavior, such as surfing history, claim, and data action like pausing or rewinding videos. The company last year has invested USD 17 billion to create a dedicated database to develop original content based on its platform’s collected data. Artificial intelligence technology can also help understand scripts and screenplays to recognize the locations described and suggest real-world locations where directors can imagine and create realistic computer graphic imagery locations.

The growing implementation of virtual production in the gaming industry also works well for the market. Factors such as leveraging a three-dimensional environment, increased focus of companies on developing compact and comfortable virtual gaming devices, and constant technological innovation on virtual production platforms, such as 3D audio, untethered virtual reality headsets, and cloud scalability, are expected to fuel the market growth across gaming applications.

Furthermore, introducing an immersive experience allows for 360 views of graphic content and a new level of gaming interaction, thus enabling players to control and modify the gaming environment through their senses. This made the interaction with the video games smoother for the player. Hence, the increased application of virtual production technology in games is expected to propel the growth of the market.

The global virtual production market size is expected to reach USD 6.79 billion by 2030. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 17.8% from 2022 to 2030. The rising popularity of virtual production in the media and entertainment industry, combined with its capabilities to create high definition visuals and real-time virtual environments, is the key factor propelling the growth of the market.

Rising demand for visual effects In movie production across the globe and growing implementation of LED wall technology can easily be regarded as the two key market drivers. Lack of skilled professionals and high capital expenditure for initial set-up have been restraining growth.

The major players in this segment are 360Rize, Adobe, Arashi Vision Inc. (Insta 360); Autodesk Inc.; Boris Fx, Inc.; Epic Games, Inc.; HTC Corporation (Viveport); Humaneyes Technologies; Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd.; Nvidia Corporation; Panocam3D.Com; Pixar (The Walt Disney Company); Side Effects Software Inc. (Sidefx); and Technicolor.

The world of virtual production is a large and varied one. Many technologies work in synergy to develop a highly sophisticated product, and it takes some time to get familiar with all the practices involved in this creative process.

Virtual production is the result of practices that originated in the gaming and virtual reality fields. Software as Notch, Unreal Engine and TouchDesigner used to deploy techniques being used in video games for decades now have been updated, in an incredibly mathematical manner.

The applications of these systems and techniques have made a significant impact in most of the range of content consumed nowadays. The use of virtual production has permeated the fields of film, TV, live events and broadcasting, video games, architecture and engineering, just to name a few.

Different technological configurations are used. The common ones are:

LED volumes. This is perhaps the most common approach to virtual production nowadays. It is characterized by the use of a large, high-definition LED screen that replaces a scene’s background.

Previs, Techvis and Postvis are three stages of visualization that are transited through during a virtual production project.

Previs refers to the pre-visualization process where artistes begin to develop 3D storyboards based on scripts and ideas that have been provided by the director and writing team.

Techvis. Once a scene has been developed in previs, and shortly before the scene is shot with talent and props, there is a joint action between the virtual art department and the real-world art department. This is the stage at which the integration between the physical world and digital begins. Since artists and directors already have information about the scene, it is only a matter of fine-tuning both digital and physical components to accomplish a unified scene.

At the postvis stage, the captured footage is processed and adjusted by the postvis team. This can range from light to heavy intervention depending on the captured footage, but since virtual production can be such an accurate form of creation, the process of postvis is not as dramatic as traditional post-production is.

Green screen in virtual environments. Even though it was the use of LED volumes that displaced the green screen, there is still space for its implementation in virtual production. It, mainly, serves the purpose of integrating “actors” in fully virtual and immersive settings.

XR virtual production. Extended Reality is a form of virtual production that emphasizes on the expanding of sets and virtual studios. The most common arrangements for this expansion are LED “caves” and the use of back plate, camera plate, and front plates. This is a technique used to give further layering to a scene, dividing it into several stages that are composited in order to create a unified scene.

Virtual production places some specific demands upon equipment and its specification. Virtual production still appears to be the preserve of the big studios. However it is gradually becoming more accessible. For example the camera.

Whilst ‘indie’ style virtual production is possible with any camera, to perform it to a professional level really does require a properly set up LED volume stage or green screen, and the associated gear that goes with that.

Filmmakers on lower budgets have experimented with everything from webcams to mirrorless hybrid cameras, but these are not ideal for the job. When you are selecting a camera to use for virtual production, an extremely important feature to have is genlock. Anyone who is familiar with broadcast systems and multi-camera studio shoots will be familiar with genlock, but for those not in the know, genlock synchs up the frame capture of different devices.

Why is this important? Well, in the case of virtual production where you have a camera, an LED volume, a motion capture device, and software that is generating a virtual backdrop, all of these must be frame-synched together to avoid problems.

This accuracy becomes even more important when it comes to virtual green screens, where the LED volume displays a backdrop and a green screen on alternate frames, or even when used with a traditional green screen and synched to Unreal Engine with realtime keying.

Lastly, for shooting on an LED volume, the camera of choice should, in perfect circumstances, also have a global shutter, or at least an extremely fast sensor readout that eliminates the risk of any artefacts.

Virtual production means many different things to many different people, and it encompasses everything from aspects of remote production through to in-camera VFX and cinematography.

Virtual production without a doubt has been a game-changer, and because it’s so deeply technology-driven, its state of the art is ever evolving.

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