Virtual production is decentralizing Hollywood
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re exploring how virtual production technologies are helping decentralize Hollywood and sharing some recommendations on what to read, watch and play this weekend.
How LED screens are changing film production
Things were going great for Diamond View in early 2020. The Tampa-based creative video agency was shooting Super Bowl spots and other glitzy commercials for clients like Jack Daniels, Subway and Jeep. Then, COVID-19 happened, and productions across the country shut down overnight.
“When the pandemic hit, it was very evident: If we couldn't travel, we couldn't do our work,” Diamond View founder Tim Moore said during a recent conversation with Protocol. “If we can't solve this, we're going to be going out of business.”
The team needed a way out, and stumbled upon virtual production, a new, real time-centric approach that, among other things, includes using giant LED screens to shoot actors in front of whatever background a scene calls for.
- Using these kinds of LED screens offers two advantages: Scenes don’t have to be shot on location, and talent doesn’t have to act in a vacuum in front of a nondescript green screen. Instead, actors, directors, camera operators and everyone else can see in real time what the scene will look like.
- These types of LED screens have been used by Disney’s Industrial Light & Magic to shoot “The Mandalorian” and by Netflix to make “1899,” among other projects.
- Moore quickly found out that commercially available LED technology was too expensive for his company, so he started to source components on his own. “99% of the world's LED is made in Shenzhen,” he said.
- Moore’s team built a 100-foot LED wall from scratch for the company’s Tampa studio and used it to shoot commercials for clients like Mercedes-Benz.
- Then, something unexpected happened: Moore started to get numerous inbound requests to build custom LED walls for third-party studios. “We had never thought about this as a business model,” Moore said. “We were just the cheapskates who couldn't afford to get the real stuff.”
Encouraged by the response, Moore decided to double down on virtual production. Diamond View spun out Vū Technologies as a separate company, installed 10 LED walls in third-party studios and raised a $17 million seed round to build out its own virtual production studio network.
- Vū has since opened studios in Las Vegas and Nashville, and is looking to set up shop in Orlando soon.
- The company wants to build a large network of studios across the country, which can then be used to shoot Hollywood-quality fare everywhere. “We plan on opening about 10 this year,” Moore said.
Virtual production allows companies to effectively decentralize their work. Instead of having everyone in the same location, they can cooperate across multiple studio spaces.
- “If the director is in New York, the actor is in LA, the DP is in Atlanta, they can go into a studio and they can make a film or video,” Moore said. “This is a major paradigm shift that is going to really disrupt the industry in the next two to three years.”
- This kind of decentralized approach isn’t just cheaper and faster, but it’s also a safer way of doing business during future COVID-19 waves. “Our goal is not to have hundreds and hundreds of people on set,” Moore said. “It's a much more contained and controlled environment.”
Virtual production is being adopted across the industry for a variety of reasons. In addition to cost savings and safety concerns, LED walls and other real-time technologies allow directors and producers to change things during a shoot, whereas they previously would have to fix mistakes during post-production.
- “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be able to make the movie faster,” said Epic Games Senior Product Manager Shawn Dunn during a recent panel on the subject. “But you’re going to see way more iterations, which will give us a much better product at the end.”
- Dunn, whose company’s Unreal Engine is often being used in conjunction with LED walls for virtual productions, also admitted that the industry is still very much in its “MacGyver” phase, with a number of companies building homegrown tech to meet their needs.
- “We’ve seen people set up an LED wall that was just one TV,” he said.
Vū Technologies has now done 150 shoots in front of LED walls, but Moore is already thinking beyond commercial video productions. Eventually, the same technology could be used for virtual events, corporate training and even education, he suggested. Vū’s ultimate goal was to build “the largest network of multiuser simulators in the world,” Moore said. “I think it will permeate through several other industries.”
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT
Today’s job landscape is challenging for organizations looking to recruit and retain top tech talent. Recent labor trends, many of which are fueling The Great Resignation, have shown leaders across industries that their employees are searching for more.
TGIF: How to spend your weekend
“Can TV take down the cult of the tech founder?” — Recode. The slow transformation of Hollywood members into tech industry skeptics has arrived, as show after show detailing the hubris and fraud of Silicon Valley officially replaces those that lovingly satirized tech and, before that, glorified it.
Though it took the entertainment industry a few years, and an eye-popping number of book deals, to catch up to the media’s less reverent tone, we’re now seeing a number of the biggest and messiest narratives of the last 10 years make their way to TV. Rani Molla over at Recode takes aim at whether Hollywood is truly up to the task of portraying the complexity behind Travis Kalanick and Elizabeth Holmes.
“Dragon Ball” — Crunchyroll. For many anime fans, “Dragon Ball” and its sequel were the shows that started it all. And now, thanks to the merger of anime streaming services under Sony, the entire “Dragon Ball” series is available to watch on Crunchyroll. That includes the original 153-episode run of “Dragon Ball,” the nine-season run of “Dragon Ball Z” and all of the inexplicably weird “Dragon Ball GT,” if you’re adventurous enough to brave that non-canon spinoff. Crunchyroll offers both subs and dubs.
“Raised by Wolves,” Season 2 — HBO Max. Ridley Scott’s “Raised by Wolves” has been one of the most original and haunting sci-fi tales in recent memory. It manages to combine several daunting subjects — religious warfare, the Book of Genesis, artificial intelligence and contact with extraterrestrial life — into a coherent narrative about restarting human civilization on a hostile planet, under the stewardship of two humanoid androids that are much more sophisticated than they seem.
The second season digs deeper into the nature of the religious cult’s devotion, as well as the development of a functioning society trying to balance the interests of atheists and believers alike. Just prepare for the levitating snake monsters to haunt your dreams.
Tunic — various platforms. The brainchild of solo developer Andrew Shouldice, Tunic embodies what makes the Legend of Zelda games so great. Shouldice ultimately pulled in a small team to help him, alongside publisher Finji and distributor Microsoft, to get the game over the finish line, and it shows. Tunic is gorgeous, with captivating music, tough combat and scores of secrets tucked away in its isometric landscapes.
Contemporary indie game players might feel compelled to compare it to Acid Nerve’s Death’s Door; both feature bipedal animal protagonists that wield swords dodge rolling, Dark Souls-style, through strikingly similar environments. But Tunic is no copycat, and Shouldice went to great lengths to wear his influences on his sleeve when necessary. Tunic is more forgiving than Death’s Door, and as captivating as any top-down Zelda entry. It’s a must-play, especially considering it was surprise-launched on Xbox Game Pass this week.
— Nick Statt
A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT
Technology organizations need to look internally to find the talent they seek by upskilling and reskilling their existing tech workforce. For this vision to become a reality, organizations must focus on being creators, rather than consumers, of talent.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.