Everyone is talking about virtual production. The increasing pressure to scale production is being felt everywhere – and virtual production techniques are becoming a competitive advantage for many studios and vendors.
It’s no secret that real-time engines, such as the Unity engine and the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, are crucial drivers behind the current virtual production wave in media and entertainment. The use of real-time engines, LED walls, Digital Asset Management platforms, and other virtual production technology have evolved over the last few years.
Let's take a look at seven high grossing films and television shows that are great examples of virtual production in action. We might even take a peek at some productions that have yet to be released!
1. The Mandalorian (2019)
A single episode of The Mandalorian costs $15 million to produce. With such a high budget, the virtual production technology created stunning visual effects for each episode. But what virtual production technology did they actually use?
Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) used the Unreal Engine and digital LED displays to create this show’s virtual set.
Over 50% of the show’s first season was filmed in a 20 foot high by 270-degree semicircular LED video wall and ceiling – complete with a 75 foot diameter performance space! Walls of high-resolution video screens powered by video-game engines served as powerful backgrounds instead of real locations.
The result? An immersive trip to Tunisia’s deserts that helped earn 16.73 million people watching all of season one.
2. The Suicide Squad (2021)
The Suicide Squad was filmed entirely with RED cameras, and an entire character was filmed with special effects and performance motion capture (King Shark). The data taken from the live action footage was used to create his character’s digital asset.
“We need to focus more on how to make the assets available faster… [As] you shift your post work into prep, you have to pre-commit half a year before you go on camera to full backgrounds and colors, often when you’re simply not there yet in the creative process with scriptwriting, casting and closed financing. It’s a huge boundary to embrace this methodology, which only high resolution asset libraries can help us overcome.” - Philipp Klausing, Executive Producer & Managing Director at DARK WAYS & DARK BAY
King Shark had to be completely redesigned in post-production, which would have been nearly impossible with outdated technology. With leveraging virtual production and visual effect techniques, James Gunn (writer and director of The Suicide Squad) would have found himself between a rock and a hard place.
3. Dune (2021)
At the same time of The Suicide Squad’s release, Denis Villeneuve's Dune film was sent to theaters. They were also testing out creative ways to leverage virtual production assets and methodologies.
For example, Paul Lambert who was the Visual Effects Supervisor, projected "a series of slices" of a computer-generated hologram bush onto a main character.
“Many new creative [virtual production] techniques were used for Dune's hologram sequence including Maxon's Redshift which rendered visuals faster than usual, enabling quicker feedback during the creative process, helping the scene come to fruition.”
4. The Batman (2022)
Enclosed areas with live LED walls are now more and more common for films or shows that are leveraging virtual production tools. This is seen in how Matt Reeves, Director of The Batman, leveraged ILM’s StageCraft LED-wall volume system used in The Mandalorian.
“For us, in visual effects, to be able to shoot and have all the natural qualities of the lens for in-camera finals, including out-of-focus and fall-off, had a lot of appeal. But not having to struggle with blue-screen and green-screen lighting deficiencies that appear flat and unnatural, to be able to have a sunset or a dark city already there and bouncing off the skin of the characters, was a big advantage.” - Dan Lemmon, The Batman’s Production VFX Supervisor
He used virtual production to elevate the film by adding skylines and his crew’s own virtual production techniques for various scenes, such as the freeway car chase. Everything had been prevised (creating real-time visualizations on location), and they used postvis to plan out CG elements for sequences.
5. Loki (2021)
Loki’s virtual production techniques stayed close to the roots of visual effects. The set harnessed bluescreens during filming, which led to a more ‘retro’ feel thanks to the special effects.
When asked about the show’s bluescreen stage shoots, Dan DeLeeuw, MCU’s Visual Effects Supervisor, commented: “Bigger sequences like the Alioth battle went through previs. This allowed production to schedule the show accordingly and build whatever set pieces or proxy objects needed to accomplish the shots…Once the shot moved into postvis, Third Floor could use their assets from the previs to turn around the shots quickly.”
6. Black Adam (2022)
You can watch these films to admire their use of virtual production technology for yourself, if you haven't already. The Soon-to-be-released Black Adam is reportedly harnessing virtual production technology through motion capture data. They are using a large VFX rig used to capture Dwayne Johnson’s upper body.
But the future of virtual production technology isn’t just restricted to Black Adam.
7. Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)
Shazam! Fury of the Gods has recently wrapped production. Will the media and entertainment industry find LED walls, bluescreens, or motion capture data used after the premiere date of June 2, 2023? Only time will tell.
“In the camera/capture space, an end-to-end production data pipeline is still something I think could be greatly improved, including camera tracking, sync with the display, lens information, and more standards in general in how we’re compiling important data.” - Miles Perkins, Industry Manager, Film & Television for Epic Games
These Examples of Modern Virtual Production are Just The Beginning
Major studios and vendors are still recovering from COVID-19’s halting of productions. As studios begin to scale the number of productions and the complexity within each project across the slate, virtual production technology will be the best way to prepare.
These seven virtual production examples are only a glimpse of what VFX production technology can do. The future of production will not revolve around editing synchronously, but around having thousands of people working on a film and collectively contributing in an organized manner.
Virtual production, like LED walls and real-time live environments, used to be reserved for high-end studios. Will this still ring true as virtual production technology continues to expand into other media creation processes, productions, or even industries? What new stories will creators be able to tell us with new and easy to use technology at their fingertips?
We’re excited to find out.
Want to start preparing for your production’s eventual use of virtual production technology? Schedule a demo with our Digital Asset Management system experts today and discover how your pipeline easily scale!