Outlook: Virtual production tools become more accessible
Sarah James
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: Virtual production tools become more accessible

As a VFX producer, adapting to virtual production (VP) initially seemed like an uphill battle. It involved learning a new production language and understanding the technology's nuances, much like learning anything. However, the transition to VP has proven less daunting than I expected. The technology and techniques are tried and tested, and as we dive into 2024, should no longer be deemed an experimental path to filmmaking. 

Now, I can barely fathom making film, television and commercials without these new tools and techniques. As part of the production team at Impossible Objects, we nurture digital-first commercial filmmakers, and it’s exciting to see how our directors use these tools to continually expand to new horizons in storytelling.

Virtual production (VP) techniques continue to revolutionize filmmaking, fundamentally transforming the way we produce content. VP implementations run the gamut in scope and scale, from using LED volume stages and realtime game engines for in-camera visual effects, to performance capture and previsualisation. Ultimately, each new technique enables filmmakers to bring their visions to life in ways that might not be possible otherwise, and as VP costs become more accessible, it’s becoming more widely used across the entertainment industry, particularly in the realm of commercials.

In the commercial filmmaking sector, virtual production allows directors to push the boundaries of realtime creativity, not only by using volumetric stages, but also through the creative use of tools such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and MetaHuman Creator, the RealityCapture photogrammetry solution, and the KitBash3D asset library. These technologies are enabling filmmakers to raise the bar in advertising with visuals that previously would have required significant post production VFX, bigger teams and larger budgets.
Resourceful directors and production companies know how to leverage many of these advanced tools to create an added layer of creative flexibility that allows for iteration and refinement at every phase of production. Using realtime game engines also opens up new creative possibilities, enabling directors to build entire virtual worlds, then explore and capture them from any angle, and in ways not previously possible in physical production. Working in-engine also offers a unique way to present ideas, sidestepping traditional pitches and treatments. 
Directors of all experience levels can benefit tremendously from adding VP tools to their arsenal, and these tools are very accessible. Unreal Engine and many of the associated learning materials are all free (for now), and the misunderstanding that VP is too expensive for commercials or smaller projects is rapidly changing. While it may increase upfront production costs, VP reduces the need for extensive post production, saving both time and resources on the back end and often generating a result that’s more closely aligned with the director’s original vision.  
Sarah James is an Executive Producer at Impossible Objects (www.impossible-objects.co), a virtual production company that embraces next-generation realtime processes, including game engines and LED volume stages for the streamlining of content production.