Technology vs Adaptability: A Never-Ending Chase
Virtual Production, originally an alien term, is now an established form of technology for productions across the world. This is with heavy contribution from Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5, a program used for all parts of the filmmaking process.
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In the pre-production stage, the Unreal Engine elevates the ability to pre-visualize your project. Storyboards have always been a key component of displaying the story prior to production, the program allows the filmmaker to create the storyboard, animate them, and even work on camera angles and moves. This is a huge asset especially when it comes to saving time and budget from camera/lighting tests and setups.
For the production phase, the Unreal Engine enables Virtual Production, connecting the real world and CG elements on set during production. This means that photo sets can be modified in real-time, interacting with the actors and props around the set, turning what would have been post-production CGI into a crafted background that the actors and crew can actually see and adjust to as they see fit. The ability to capture in-camera visual effects helps teams test their ideas while filming, without having to worry about future complications in post-production, a function that has been greatly appreciated since the wider usage of LEDs.
The Unreal Engine has already been established as a key component of the industry, approved by multiple filmmakers and studios through constant input from the users to create a system that truly supports the filmmaking process, especially since it was originally made for game creation. In fact, many popular movies/shows have been created with the help of the program, including The Mandalorian, Ford v Ferrari, Star Wars: Rogue One, and the currently in production The Batman.
Though it does question, where would this lead the industry towards? Would there be a capacity to hold multiple productions with the needs of the Unreal Engine? What about the jobs and skill sets of those that craft real sets, will they have to transfer their expertise to digital sets?
Working in an industry that constantly evolves in terms of technological advancements, the layers of ethics and skills are so dense that it should just be as important to be captivated by the extravagant new toys that filmmakers get to play with. It goes without saying that Unreal Engine has become a powerhouse technology for filmmakers, especially those in the fantasy genres, but it would have to be more accessible in its learning curve and awareness to have a greater participation rate with a wider demographic range.
Luckily, the advancement in Virtual Production has birthed multiple new organizations/committees in an attempt to aid newcomers to the process. One of these organizations is the Joint Technology Committee on Virtual Production, a joint effort of six organizations: The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), the Art Director’s Guild (ADG), the Visual Effects Society (VES), the Previsualization Society, the Producers Guild of America (PGA), and the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG). David Morin, the chair of the committee recognizes the impact of the increasing digitization workflow, and as such with the committee, works to test the capabilities of Virtual Production, making it more accessible to filmmakers today.