A New Look at Virtual Production
Time is money. It is an adage that studios entrenched in the complex world of 3D and live-action production understand all too well. Keeping large crews on set, or teams of artists cranking away on 3D characters and scenes, takes a lot of money; and those costs just continue to climb.
The concept of previsualization, or previs, grew out of this pressure to keep production costs under control. As the amount of digital data being used in production increased, the need to see it earlier in the creative process became critical. Using 3D and motion capture technologies to create rough versions of sets and sequences enabled meaningful creative choices to be made earlier in the production process.
Today, these technologies are being used to enable “virtual production,” which allows directors to see digital and live assets together at the time of shooting. Furthermore, it enables directors to make decisions about lighting, camera positions and shot construction at the time when changes can be most easily made.
At this year’s SIGGRAPH, there was one solution that grabbed a lot of attention in the area of previs and virtual production; and strangely, it wasn’t a commercial product at all. Rather, it was a marriage of technologies and ideas: OptiTrack’s Insight Virtual Camera System, the vision of previs studio HALON Entertainment, and an application development platform (in beta) from Fabric Engine.
Setting the Stage
This is where a bit of history might help. Three years ago, in 2009, Los Angeles-based previs company HALON Entertainment developed a handheld camera to help them capture camera passes on OptiTrack motion capture (mocap) data.
OptiTrack caught wind of the camera and productized it, calling it the Insight Virtual Camera System, or Insight VCS. Together, the camera and OptiTrack’s mocap software formed what is now called the “virtual camera previsualization pipeline,” which has been used on a number of high-profile projects, including Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman, Battleship, and John Carter.
For years, the Insight VCS offered HALON a solution for testing camera passes, framing shots and setting up scenes before actual production began. However, the camera had some limitations.
“As a previs company, there are many technology barriers we constantly try to break down to create a previs process where technology gets out of the way of the film making process,” says Daniel Gregoire, owner and previsualization director at HALON Entertainment. “One of these was figuring out how to make the virtual camera process more like the on-set experience directors, DP's and the like are familiar with.”