Virtual production has been increasingly adopted by studios to create interactive digital environments and assets, and push the boundaries of live-action filmmaking. Virtual production became more widespread among major studios during the Covid-19 pandemic, and it looks like it's here to stay.
In the past twenty years, films like The Jungle Book and Avatar laid the groundwork for recent films and television shows' virtual production. Now, major studios like Disney and Warner Bros use virtual production to visualize digital scenes and other digital assets for their major works.
But how exactly has the virtual production of media changed in these two major studios? Let's take a look at how Disney and Warner Bros have developed their virtual production techniques over the past few years.
A Glimpse of Disney & Warner Bros’ Modern Virtual Production
The battle for the title of the best studio between Disney and Warner Bros is still going strong. Their evolving virtual production processes speak to their struggle for industry dominance. How has Disney ramped up their virtual production technology?
In 2021, Disney bought a virtual production facility that houses 700 LED panels. When combined, they create a 1,600 square foot LED canvas! This facility is but one aspect of Disney’s modern virtual production advances.
“We are committing a stage on our lot to a permanent virtual StageCraft production installation. This stage will serve as an extraordinary resource…Whether it’s shooting routine driving shots, creating worlds that only exist in the imaginations of our creators, or traveling our casts and crews to both well-known and remote locations around the world without anyone having to get on a plane, the possibilities are game-changing.” - John Ziffren, Disney Television Studios Executive Producer
Let’s look at three recent films for each studio to get a sense of how their technology is evolving.
Loki (TV, 2021)
Loki’s production did not use the same virtual production technology (The Volume) that was leveraged in The Mandalorian. Instead of using a virtual set, the production team physically built the sets, which might have cost the studio more money and consumed extra time in post production.
Moon Knight (TV, 2022)
Unlike Loki, Disney’s Moon Knight held the least amount of photography required during a Marvel film production. This is an astonishing achievement, especially since many editors and directors never met in person during remote production.
Many of these shows and films were forced into virtual production by COVID-19, but it has helped Disney’s production evolve ever since.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Film, 2023)
There have been rumors that Disney might be using LED volumes during the virtual production of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. However, Director James Gunn recently tweeted about how the visual effects were not where he wanted them to be quite yet when a private trailer was released:
“Although I love the teaser, some VFX aren’t where I’d want them to be for repeated views and close inspection — remember we didn’t wrap [production] long ago.” - James Gunn, Director on Unreleased Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Trailer
With Disney’s recent technological advances, Warner Bros had no choice but to do some production upgrades of their own.
Disney isn’t the only one testing out new virtual production facilities and LED stages. In 2021, Warner Bros bought one of the largest virtual production stages, “V Stage.” It has over 2,600 LED panels, and will be used to film House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones’ prequel.
The Suicide Squad (Film, 2021)
The Unreal Engine made a huge impact on the virtual production of The Suicide Squad. The production team used live-action motion capture to transmit data as they filmed. This way, decisions are made faster and digital assets are edited in real-time, saving crucial time in production.
“Real-time [virtual production] technology has enabled a seismic shift in how film and TV content is produced… The demand for these real-time skills has exploded and we know it will only continue to grow as more and more filmmakers are exposed to this new way of working.”- Miles Perkins, Epic Games’ Industry Manager Film and Television
Warner Bros even released virtual reality content of the first Suicide Squad at a San Diego Comic-Con after the film’s release in 2016.
Batman (Film, 2022)
While Batman was released just one year after The Suicide Squad, there were notable progressions in terms of virtual production technology. The production team used in-camera techniques and LED volumes as much as possible.
For example, in the film there are several scenes where the actors are on top of a building. The audience can see the entire skyline of Gotham City. In real life, the production team was using an LED volume for that skyline.
Both The Mandalorian and Batman used the same virtual production techniques — and both films were worth the technological investment for Warner Bros.
Black Adam (Film, 2022)
While not yet released, Black Adam already has a lot of production hype surrounding it. Rumors of LED volumes being used for the film have been circulating, and even Dwayne Johnson has posted on his Instagram about “the egg,” a massive VFX machine used to capture footage of his body movements.
Pay no attention to the technology behind the curtain…
There are very few hard stops in virtual production technology. These studio’s production processes are never going to simply disappear as new technology is created — there will always be another evolutionary step. For example, for Warner Bros or Disney, LED screens have become more of a “venue” for the use of 3D imagery and environments.
It’s crucial to note where these virtual technologies are heading, because major studios and other media creators will be leveraging these technologies in new ways. As technology advances, DAMs and other 3D applications could dramatically change how films or series are created.
Which Studio is Evolving Their Virtual Production Faster?
While that question might be hard to answer, virtual production continues to evolve at major studios every year.
When an audience watches the latest superhero movie, they are blown away by the virtual effects and live-action acting. But to get to that jaw-dropping point, studios have started to leverage one of the key building blocks of virtual production: DAMs, or Digital Asset Management systems.
This technology acts as “the man behind the curtain,” and this platform of digital asset management will be the foundation of the next generation’s virtual production teams.
Curious how your virtual production process can transform with a DAM? Schedule a demo with our Digital Asset Management experts today!