Five Things to Consider When Planning for Virtual Production

In late November we hosted a virtual workshop in our winter workshop series titled, "Scheduling and Logistics for Virtual Production", featuring a panel of our experienced virtual production professionals. 

Above, from left to right: Daniel Mallek - Director of Content and Innovation, Kevin De Lucia - VFX Supervisor, Megan Hill - General Manager, Vū Nashville, Kristy Reed - Director of Sales.

1. Post-Production Becomes Your Pre-Production

Production has followed a similar linear process for a very long time. Innovation often means changing the mindset, "we've always done it this way." This is also true of virtual production. Kristy shared that one of the biggest changes in virtual production is that much of your post-production work becomes your pre-production work. 

In the old model many decisions were made in post after the shoot but with ICVFX those decisions are made ahead of the shoot. To have flexibility on set and for the final product many times we build extra options in our virtual environments to enable last minute changes during the shoot. For example in a desert we can design multiple options of rocks, foliage, time lapse, etc and choose which one to use or shoot with them all in different combinations on set.

2. Every Shoot has Unanswered Questions - the Trick is Knowing What Questions You Will Need to Have Answered

A studio setup with a sun setting in the background.

Going back to the desert again, a great example of this is color matching the physical sand to the color of the virtual sand. How the two art departments blend together in camera is vital to the believability of the look. Daniel explained the process of matching physical to practical art. Ahead of coming together on set the Virtual Art Department (VAD) gave reference images to the physical art director. Daniel brought up a recent example about building out a desert scene. "When we were building out the [practical] art we also made sure to have the virtual environment up on the wall along with our camera in order to really match the two."

Daniel was mentioning that you can get everything set for one scene but you then need to realize that when you go and change the scene from daytime  to nighttime scene, the two sands may not match again and you will need to go back and tweak the virtual sand to match the nighttime lit sand. This is why if you are building out an entire environment you really need to have an optimization/art build day and walk through all your scenes to make sure everything matches for your shoot day. You do not want to waste time tweaking your virtual environment the day of shoot while you have a client and talent on set.

This is a great example of the importance of a pre-light day. On the pre-light day, the team fine-tuned the colors and was able to match them up incredibly well. If they waited until cameras were rolling this would significantly slow down production. This is why we push teams to plan ahead and leverage a pre-light to have time for the unknown.

3. Let Vū Help with the Unknown

Vū team wearing face masks. Tech person standing in front of a screen.

While virtual production is gaining momentum in the industry, we still see so many people who haven’t experienced it firsthand. Kristy shared that teams are always concerned about what it’s going to look like. Here at Vū, we bring our team alongside yours to reassure you and suggest things we’ve learned from our experience shooting in the volume. When you book with us we lean on our VFX supervisors and Executive Producers to help guide you in the planning process. We love guiding our clients and they can really benefit from our expertise.  

Our main goal is to be sure the client has a successful experience. We want you to love your time here and return to shoot with us again. Some clients love having that planning assistance from our team, and others don’t need much input. We always recommend getting your key team members into the space ahead of shooting because seeing it in person is much different than seeing it on the web.

4. Is Virtual Production Limitless?

Studio LED setup featuring a director chair placed in the center of the stage.

It’s been said many different ways that a blank page, or canvas, though filled with possibility, can be one of the scariest things. Virtual production is marketed as being this limitless potential where you can put anything you imagine on the screen. While this is true it’s important to have some direction before you begin shooting. 

Kevin shared, “there is no set template for this stuff, or how many backgrounds you can do in a day, I think the biggest thing with virtual production is its problem solving, you know, it's trying to figure out are, what is your scope? What are you trying to do? How can you be prepared for those things coming into the production side?” It’s vital to have the environments chosen and optimized before shoot day. You should ask yourself questions like, can we adjust this color temperature? How do we need to tweak this exposure or change the lighting from twilight to daytime? When you know your goals going into the project, you’ll be much more successful.

5. Use Large Space to Plan Efficiently

A group of people working on the stage setup.

The Mandalorian introduced us to using virtual production for sweeping vistas and the vastness of space. As a result so many initial use cases have been focused on grand elaborate digital placemaking. Every shoot is different and has different needs. Three of our Vū Studios, (Orlando, Nashville, and Las Vegas), all have volumes that are built in a "J" shape.

An image of a J shape floor plan.

This gives us the very unique opportunity to have a flat space and a curved space. Megan Hill pointed out we can split the large LED stage into multiple sets and prebuild the scenes on a build/pre light day, “That way they are set up, we've pre lit we've seen the environments we know exactly (what they look like in camera), so you can walk in on the day of the shoot and then immediately turn and shoot into the next scene, which I think is a huge time saver.”

Megan continues, “I'm constantly looking at storyboards and working with the AD to help our clients be strategic with their shot lists.” There is power in utilizing several small stages to build out your practical art ahead of time so you can go from one set to the next without a lot of wait time. “Sometimes production companies will build two to three sets on one of our stages on their art build day to achieve this similar idea.”

When shooting virtual production, your “time and budget” shifts dramatically. When talking about time, Daniel had this to say, “we can switch between environments pretty rapidly, that's not a big time cost.” He went on to say that changing the camera setups, art builds  and lighting is where you really start to see the timing come into play. This is why having multiple setups on a single stage can be very valuable. 

Much of this comes down to the planning and logistics. We have seen a big difference in crews that have some volume experience, and take full advantage of pre-light/optimization/art build days. The teams that do this have a massive advantage on shoot days for everything to go off without a hitch. 

Special thanks to our panelists for this workshop. If you have any questions about how to plan for virtual production or any upcoming projects that may be a good fit for ICVFX we’d love to be a resource for you. Let’s talk. Also be sure and watch the workshop for more insight and detailed discussion.

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