Recent re-introductions of lockdowns and restrictions across the eastern states would usually bring most location shooting to a stop. But a new tech-driven filming process is allowing the show to go on, by recreating location shoots within nearly empty studios.
The technique, called Virtual Production (VP) combines elements of game development and 3D design with those of traditional filmmaking.
The process involves replacing physical sets with digital ones, usually displayed on a high resolution LED wall. Using game engine technology, these digital sets can respond live by tracking the position of the camera to recreate natural parallax and closely mimic the appearance of a real world location.
This technique was famously used to create much of Disney’s hit series, The Mandalorian, and has since been used on many Marvel film and TV franchises.
But in Covid-impacted periods, it also provides a way to safely and responsibly ensure the cameras don’t have to stop rolling, which is great news for crews already hit by reduced opportunities for work.
The Light Foundation in Adelaide, a registered charity, is one of the organisations that has the facilities needed to create content using this new process.
Light’s Head of Technology Nathan Bazley, says this form of filmmaking is exploding in popularity right now, in part because of COVID.
“When filmmakers were forced to think outside the box during global lockdowns in order to keep cameras rolling, Virtual Production was one idea that really came into its own.”
“While it’s still early days, Virtual Production really is the best pathway to efficient content creation. The level of detail that can be added to digital environments now means they are fast replacing the need to travel to locations.”
“Obviously that cuts out a huge amount of risk and indecision when planning a shoot. It also allows the crew to be reduced down to the smallest number possible on set, while directors and producers can watch the near final camera output live from home in any other state or country.”
“And that’s on top of the other benefits, like being able to double click a file to launch location after location, even if they would normally be hours or days apart. You can also dynamically control the lighting and every other aspect of the scene, meaning perfect lighting conditions 24 hours a day if necessary.”
“But it doesn’t even have to be that complicated — I’ve seen producers come in here and use standard video backgrounds and even blocks of colour to create some amazing effects.”
Virtual Production at Light is enabled by a breathtaking 150sqm Dicolor LED wall, which wraps around three sides of a space that used to be squash courts, on level 1 of the heritage-listed Light headquarters at 63 Light Square in Adelaide.
Light’s mission is to put these facilities in the hands of a wider range of creatives, from feature filmmakers to indie producers, advertising agencies to students.
The range of 3D content and textures that are used to recreate locations is also expanding rapidly, especially with the help of Unreal Engine, the software used to create these dynamic worlds.
One of the local South Australian businesses that is already benefiting from Light’s Virtual Production facility is Modelfarm.
Founder and Director Shane Aherne says creating digital ‘sets’ for film and TV is Modelfarm’s speciality.
“We have made it our focus to be industry leaders in the space of Virtual Production. Having this facility available to us has allowed us to really push the technology and explore how to maximise its effectiveness.”
He sees a big future for Virtual Production techniques in all sorts of different Australian Productions.
“There are huge cost and time benefits to being able to change the worlds your actors are in instantly — especially when you can’t travel to them physically. One second you can be standing on top of Everest and the next standing under the Eiffel Tower. All without having to step a foot out of the Virtual Production facility at Light.”
Light is available now for production bookings. Please contact Nathan Bazley for more information. (Nathan@lightadl.com.au)
And for more on the Light Cultural Foundation and its facilities, go to https://banta.co/light/showcase