We were given the amazing opportunity to test the new Virtual Production stage at BU. From the very first time we saw with our eyes the huge LED screen we knew that something phenomenal – yet quite hard – was going to happen. To be honest, we had a limited timeframe not only to actually shoot in the sound stage, but also to prepare all the 3D scenes in Unreal Engine. This forced us to really push all our creative and technical skills to finish our production, but we feel we learnt and grew thanks to this experience.
On one hand, it is hard and requires more time than usual to prepare and optimise all the assets and combine them in the file scene and run it multiple times to check for bugs. On the other hand though, working in a Virtual Production environment allowed us to creatively explore the tri-dimensional space of our scene and move from the setups we developed from our storyboards to new perspectives we found being truly immersed in the digital set.
Virtual Production made us more aware of technical and artistic choices throughout almost the entire project, especially choices that would end up making us waste more time to re-adjust scenes. For instance, in one of our hero shots, our protagonist is stranded on a desert planet hoping for rescue. We decided to change the depth of field for that Unreal scene but, naively, it ruined the colour match between our real sand and the digital one. The chromatic difference was so evident that forced us to longly recalibrate the colours of the scene and re-match the values of the digital sand.
Several of our artistic decisions were dictated by the technical limitations of the LED screen itself. We needed to recreate the same outdoor lighting environment using powerful 750 W lights which, unfortunately, produced reflections on the screens breaking the suspension of disbelief. Similarly, the layout and position of the panels restricted some of the main camera angles we had in mind. For example, the closer we were with the camera, the more moire effect we could see on the camera monitor, meanwhile the further we were from the screens, almost no interactive lighting was affecting the actor (see attached illustration).
Notwithstanding all the difficulties, the whole project was something you can really define as a creative process, something which is not very common these days, when sometimes digital artists lose themselves in default settings and already seen visuals. A whole new toolset forces you to find innovative creative methods on your own. The lack of bibliography on the matter guarantees a free artistic approach, even though more research is required to overcome all the little and big problems.
We feel extremely lucky about this opportunity and we really think this is going to be a very important tool in the future (and the present) of visual effects, even if it is very important to understand not only the strengths but also the limitations of every asset. Watch our final video here:
We will release a “Behind the scenes” video as well, so please, stay tuned.
P.S. We truly wish to thank the people who allowed us to work on this project. A big thanks to Richard Southern who proposed us with this initiative and together with the incredible Oleg Fryazinov for the Unreal support and Edward Sedgley for the set dressing, Mocap setup, Camera assistance, morale support…
Our gratitude goes to Neil Goridge as well who guided us to polish the photography and cinematography of our short film.
And lastly, thanks to Anurag Gautam, our great friend who was never tired from constantly holding up heavy equipment and our spirits 🙂
Cast & Crew
- Paolo Mercogliano – Director, UE Artist, Pipeline and Colour Supervisor
- Diana Pelino – Producer, Lighting Artist, Editor
- Anna Semple – 3D Artist, Photography, Actress
- Miguel Pozas – 3D Artist, Actor
- Joseph Adams – Technical Director, UE Artist
- Nathalie Puetzer – Compositor, Camera operator
This article was contributed by Paolo Mercogliano and Diana Pelino.