Computer Graphics World

July-Aug-Sept 2021

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4 cgw j u ly • a u g u s t • s e p t e m b e r 2 0 2 1 V I E W P O I N T V irtual production is no longer limited to niche productions. It's now becoming a staple of media creation, used to drive in-cam- era visual effects and pave the way for a more immersive way of filmmaking across features, series, and shorts. Using real-time techniques and workflows, directors and creatives alike can create digital environments in the previsualization stage be- fore using VR to scout these environments during prep, and even on set. For VFX-heavy films, this is a game changer; filmmakers can see the action in context of the rest of the film, and make changes and edits on the day of shooting. The result is greater creative collabora- tion on set and a blurring of lines between production stages. Yet, with any burgeoning technology comes growing pains. As di- rectors, artists, and studios come to grips with the nuances of virtual production, there are some key common challenges emerging that prove pivotal for the industry to recognize and address. Asset Preparation Virtual production involves creating virtual objects, which are then rendered to be shown on an LED wall or volume. Whereas before as part of a traditional production these same assets would have typi- cally been built or developed in post aer shooting, they now have to be built in advance as part of a virtual production setup. This puts pressure on virtual art departments (VAD), which need to create assets at the highest possible quality before the day of the shoot, compressing a huge amount of work into a small amount of time, compared to asset creation in postproduction. This is a multifaceted challenge, and one that isn't easily over- come. For example, VADs oen have to build assets targeted for use in Epic Games' Unreal Engine, a tool synonymous with virtual pro- duction, thus switching pipelines as a result — which poses problems for artists who aren't familiar or skilled with Unreal. It also means that an entirely different skill set is needed in order to optimize assets for the wall; an artist needs to create an asset, refine it, and optimize it enough so that it can run on the LED wall in real time. To offset this challenge, work is needed to bridge the transfer of data between soware and applications to relieve pressure on everyone involved. The ideal scenario — and something Foundry is working hard to make a reality — is one where assets are built in one pipeline and go to the wall, but they're still able to return into this same pipeline. The wall is just an extension, not a new thing nor a dead end. The process for refinement becomes simpler, and artists don't need to ditch their pipelines and move into uncharted territory — they can stay working with familiar soware. Equipment Knowledge, Stage Setup & Testing Despite an industry filled with seasoned, talented compositors, there's a dearth of virtual production experts, trained or knowledge- able in how to set up and work with a technology that is brand-new. Compounding this is the fact that relationships between on-set roles are not clear, particularly when it comes to LED walls, the ownership of which is up for grabs. Are they part of VFX or lighting? Or are they something else entirely — an artistic tool, perhaps? As a result, it's oen unclear who holds the reins and takes charge on any one project. This poses problems scaling upwards to the director, who may, for example, want more lights coming from a certain angle, but wonders whether he or she should speak to the VFX supervisor, a gaffer, or someone in lighting to achieve this. Logistical challenges abound, and the waters are muddied: Whose job is whose? This issue extends to studios too, particularly those brought in to work on indie productions, which may be unsure who best to talk to about a fundamental piece of equipment for stage setup, for exam- ple. On virtual productions, who has authority in this instance — is it the producers or VFX team? Lighting or the director? Uncertainties such as these add more chaos to an already chaotic event. Bringing Compositing Closer to On-set The promise of in-camera VFX is that you capture what's needed on the day, sign off on it, and head home safe in the knowledge that that's a job well done. The reality is different — the end image oen doesn't look the way the director envisaged; elements may have to be painted out, edited, or removed, leading to additional VFX work. The aim is to bring this work closer to on-set to make the benefits of virtual production bear fruit, while giving directors the capability to see in-camera VFX at the highest possible quality. But this is easier said than done, since it's so divergent from tradi- tional postproduction compositing. Question marks arise around the types of tools needed on set to facilitate this merging of workflows, and what requirements these have. Not only this, but as the line blurs between creative and technical teams, perhaps a different kind of compositor is needed — one who immediately understands a director's vision and can make changes on the fly, in the heat of the moment, and capture what's needed. The question then arises: Who directs them? Is it the director, or is it the VFX supe? Doubtless, it's somebody who is a crucial part of the show, but we don't know what that looks like yet. Org charts aside, making compositing more real-time is the main VIRTUAL PRODUCTION: NEW CHALLENGES BY DAN RING

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