Virtual Production: Technology advancements bring shifting workflows
Jase Lindgren
Issue: September/October 2023

Virtual Production: Technology advancements bring shifting workflows

The power of virtual production is in its ability to bring the technology and artistry of visual effects onto the main stage with actors and directors. It lets on-stage talent build stronger connections to the story and world they’re working to immerse the audience in. It also allows directors and producers to give more immediate feedback and make better-informed creative decisions.

Photo: Jase Lindgren. Top photo: Behind the scenes at the Disguise Virtual Production Accelerator.

Advances in virtual production are breaking silos and shifting workflows. Amidst all the change, it is going to be the teams who work together best that produce impactful work. Your organization can get ahead if you do a couple of important things: one, establish a culture that values cross-discipline collaboration, and two, establish systems that streamline knowledge and information sharing. 

Provide avenues to learn from diverse perspectives
The media professionals I work with tend to agree that virtual production can enable more collaboration and innovation than the industry has ever seen. They also tend to agree it can be challenging to establish new workflows that are smooth and efficient. 

Cross-functional teams need to come together under condensed timelines and budgets. They often must do this with a limited pool of people who have the necessary talent and expertise. How can executives help their teams collaborate better in these conditions and spread more knowledge?

The answer is to find the sweet spot between process and flexibility. Research and provide guidance from previous productions. Stay open to novel approaches and facilitate as much inter-departmental communication as possible.

Innovation needs room to breathe and the freedom to break things. Your team needs permission to innovate from its highest-level directors and executives. By allowing your teams to find problems earlier in the production process, they can create new workflows and learn how to solve issues more quickly. Open communication lets them develop strong bonds through their diverse backgrounds and experience.

Develop open standards and systems that facilitate iteration

Virtual production teams today can be challenged by gaps in expectations. They can also struggle to stay digitally organized when working across multiple interconnected software and hardware systems. Similarly, remote teams are often challenged by something very basic, but foundational: awareness. They may not be aware of established processes. They might not know about the educational materials the team has. They might be completely unaware of what others on their team are working on.

It’s crucial for your entire team to be aware of the processes and materials that enable them to do their jobs better and collaborate more efficiently. The virtual production studios that I’ve seen do this best have established shared documentation or even public pages. These docs or pages are where their employees and clients can go to find workflows, naming conventions and other guides they can use to self-service. Leadership works to continually refine and update these materials on user-friendly systems, and they bring awareness and visibility to these documents regularly. 

They also implement sophisticated collaboration tools. One key tool a lot of virtual production teams are utilizing is a centralized version control system. This is software that stores and manages versions and variants of their digital assets and project files. Another valuable tool is a digital asset management system they can use to quickly locate and track progress on art files. Tools that integrate with existing systems and avoid duplicate work are valuable for teams in any industry. For folks in media and entertainment who are working with a huge volume of digital assets, they are essential.

When teams operate on a finite and accessible set of information, and a technical director and/or project manager is available to guide workflows, they can collaborate better, with shared understanding. 

Design for people, not for technology

The terms digital transformation and change management are often attached to initiatives that incorporate new technology. But what is really at play is designing for people — for your teams and their particular ways of working. Production teams today are overwhelmed with the volume and scale of work they need to produce as virtual production techniques and processes gain rapid adoption. But, as exciting as the latest production technology can be, it isn’t what is going to make your studio or animation house more sustainable or prolific. It’s your team that is going to do that.

Succeeding today and creating work that brings real impact requires great documentation, great communication and great empathy. With all that’s recently changed in the way films and series are produced, the essential ingredient that will separate the best virtual production houses from the rest is the strength of their collaboration.

Advancements in technology will introduce a lot less friction when your people, and the processes and mindsets that support them, are already working synergistically. That’s when the magic happens.

Jase Lindgren is a Visual Effects Specialist & Solutions Engineer with Perforce Software