Computer Graphics World

Edition 1 2021

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j a n • f e b • m a r c h 2 0 2 1 c g w 1 3 I t's no exaggeration to call 2020 the most challenging year for TV and movie pro- duction in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic had dramatic, industry-altering effects aer it became clear that few stu- dios on the planet would be spared. Making any kind of scripted entertainment is an elaborate, expensive process even during the best of times, to say nothing of when it's suddenly too dangerous to do things in person that you'd usually take for granted. This became even more obvious when the industry-altering effects of the pandemic began to show. Yet while mandatory bubbles and exten- sive protocols became one way to deal with the unique circumstances of entertainment production in keeping everyone involved safe, the logistics of shooting episodic TV or films during a pandemic accelerated a trend that was already well under way: the shi toward virtual production. What exactly is virtual production? Let's start by agreeing that the term itself is probably too narrow to describe its impact. While virtual production generally refers to using soware to combine live-action footage with computer-generated imagery or material, which many would consider to be the domain of traditional VFX, it's more precise to say that it is real-time production which has caught on and revolutionized the future of TV and filmmaking, particularly for the realities of our current time. The technology needed to get to this point has woven its way into the industry over time. Digital editing was arguably the first big step forward, giving editors the ability to start their work while filming was still going on. VFX was another key area of technological improvement, as artists began conjuring impressive results from their own workstations. Still, most of the develop- ments of the previous few decades have been devoted to speeding up the traditional steps in a time-honored process of assem- bling TV shows or movies. VIRTUAL PRODUCTION BENEFITS Real-time production shakes up the entire paradigm because it removes the need to create a film in a step-by-step, linear fashion. Instead, every part of a project can be worked on simultaneously, and the lines between them are blurred or even erased altogether. For example, VFX has historically been part of postproduction – to make a classic like Star Wars, you shot the film first and added the effects later. Virtual pro- duction techniques make that distinction meaningless, as you can now add the ef- fects as you go, and do it in real time, within a completely digital environment if need be. The benefits in terms of speed are obvi- ous. The entire moviemaking timeline can be compressed when the talent involved can build out all parts of it simultaneously. Addi- tionally, those people aren't required to be in the same physical location – a huge bonus in a year like the one that just ended. Team members can easily collaborate in a scene – in the same space, seeing the changes live – yet work remotely. An area where these tools have shined during the pandemic is in pre-production, when shots can be assembled in CG before anyone heads to a live set. When restrictions require everyone to stay away from shooting locations, team members have the power to cra more of the film or show remotely, making decisions in advance of when actors and teams can head to set again. This pre-production work using virtual tools also allows grips to see where they need to lay the tracks for dollies, and set designers and carpenters to see where to place props with regard to shadows, which helps them see how that impacts the tracks. More than anything, though, real-time production puts power and control back in the director's hands. The traditional filmmaking steps oen turned decisions into risk/reward equations. Do I try that shot again, hoping for a better angle or more perfect lighting? Or do I press on because it isn't worth the extra time and money involved? When you're able to do every- thing from visualizing an entire virtual set to determining the perfect camera placement on the fly in real time, it puts some of the spontaneity back into the mix, allowing for serendipitous what-if moments to flourish where they once caused fear. This creative freedom isn't limited only to those with bottomless pockets. Using real-time production technology in the pre-visualization portion of a project leads to significant cost savings by more fully in- forming every choice. Traditionally, postpro- duction was the biggest drain of time and Although not a new concept, virtual production has really started coming into its own recently. What exactly is virtual production? In simplest terms, virtual production combines live-action footage and computer graphics in real time. These productions involve the use of a game engine, in most instances Epic Games' Unreal Engine or Unity Technologies' Unity engine. Virtual production can influence every aspect of the production pipeline, from development and pre-production, to production, and postproduction. And it's not just big Hollywood productions that see its value. It is becoming a practical solution for projects of all sizes, down to the independent or student filmmaker. That's because the advantages it offers are many: faster and more creative workflows, more iteration and collaboration, and a reduction of time spent on set, to name a few. In this section on virtual production, experts at Epic and Unity shed light on this growing trend. UNITY: REAL-TIME REV AT THE HEART OF VIRTUAL PRODUCTION BY RORY ARMES, VICE PRESIDENT OF SOLUTIONS DEVELOPMENT, UNITY From Love and 50 Megatons. [ CONTINUED ON PG 14 ] By Josephine Ross, producer; Denis Krez, VFX supe; Paulo Scatena, TD.

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