Inside Ron Frankel’s Wonderful Virtual World of Feature Film Visualization
DS: Looking ahead over the next five years, where do you see feature film visualization headed? What’s next in terms of technological and onset innovations?
RF: With technology advancing at the rate it is and with productions becoming more and more sophisticated, part of the reason why, and I don’t say this lightly, but part of the reason why I have made this transformation from calling Proof a previs company to a visualization company is because I do think what we do is going to change pretty radically over the next few years. I don’t ascribe to those ultimatums, like there will be no more previs. You hear people saying, “Oh, previs won’t exist in a few years.” That’s probably not true. I think that there will always be a role and a need for artists sitting in a room somewhere working with the director. There might not be as many artists. It might not take as long to do. But, I think there will always be a need for previs artists. There is still going to be a role for them.
The difference is going to be in this blurring of the lines between what happens in pre-production, production, and post. You are going to see a lot more of the kind of virtual production work that you are seeing in productions like Real Steel, where the previs team is now kind of the visualization team. We’re building assets for animating, but we are not doing the cameras. The cameras are being done maybe on a motion capture volume with a virtual camera by the director or the DP. And all that data is being wrapped up and sent off to a post-production facility for rendering. Or from that, we are extracting a camera move to shoot actors on the blue screen. What will happen is a continued blurring of the lines between the roles of pre-production, production, and post in which a previs team is a vis team is a postvis team. They are not necessarily one in the same thing, but there is a lot more fluidity occurring between them.
Photo-realistic real-time rendering, whether or not we ever get there, we’ll see. But the technology we “are” going to see in pre-production, the holy grail of previs, that has always been the game engine. I certainly think that’s going to come up as a real game changer in pre-production. So, rather than seeing teams of 20 artists laboring away doing previs, you might see teams of three or four really skilled animators and a couple of layout artists in there going to a real-time game engine. You are going to see more direct input devices, where you can put a virtual camera in the hands of the director or the cinematographer as they are actually composing the movie. Onset, you will see more of the visualization work where assets that were developed in previs are showing up onset, assets that were developed in previs that we never used for previs.