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A Previsualization Society is Born

Previs practitioners form their own society and VFXWorld has the exclusive.

alon's work on War of the Worlds was integral to the concept now known as On-Set Previs. ™ & © 2005 Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks.

Check out the Iron Manprevis clipsat AWNtv!

Previs practitioners have come together to form the Previsualization Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the creation and use of the previs medium in multiple industries. The fledgling organization, which boasts more than 150 charter members, including members in Canada, Europe, Australia and South America, officially launches Jan. 15, 2010, at which time it will offer an online portal ( with articles, case studies, newsletters, forums, blogs, job boards, historical archives and more. The society will also publish handbooks for practitioners and consumers, and is designed to build an interdisciplinary community made up of and for the benefit of everyone who participates in the previs process.

Founding members include Colin Green (founder of Pixel Liberation Front), president of the Previsualization Society; David Dozoretz (founder of POV Previs LLC); Chris Edwards (CEO, The Third Floor); Ron Frankel (founder of Proof); Daniel Gregoire (founder of Halon Ent.), treasurer of the Previsualization Society; and Brian Pohl (CEO of POV) and Previsualization Society secretary.

Charter members include Production Designer Alex McDowell (Watchmen) and David Morin, Autodesk consultant and co-chair (with Frankel) of the ASC-ADG-VES Joint Technology Subcommittee on Previsualization, which was instrumental in the formation of the new organization.

"We formed the organization after having all met each other [on the subcommittee] and realizing that we shared a lot of common ground and there was a lot of work to be done in the name of previs," Green suggests. We want to advance an understanding and promote proper usage of skills and build a larger community around a production process that already exists."

"We are dedicated to everyone involved in the previs process," Edwards adds. "It's the community surrounding previs that benefits from this process and is involved with previs on a daily basis. We recognize that previs is an interdisciplinary craft and so we aim to involve and we already have charter members in visual effects, DPs, production designers, art directors, storyboard artists, editors, directors, producers and industry executives. So, we're also involved in multiple industries and previs has been a part of the feature film industry, for sure, with previs also being used in television, commercials, game cinematics, architecture and other forms of visualization.

The roundtable meeting that started it all.

"We want to publish and share the knowledge that we've gathered and will gather in the future to promote best practices and standards, because there is an educational process, not only for the practitioners of previs but also for the industries that associate with previs at large. And to cultivate new talent at schools and among educators and students, people that are interested in previs, people that want to study it. There are very few resources for them right now."

The Previs Committee got started at the American Society of Cinemotographers when Curtis Clark, ASC, asked Morin and Frankel to chair a subcommittee on previsualization. At the same time, I hosted a previs roundtable in December 2007 at the Art Directors Guild, which led to the ADG (and later) the VES joining the subcommittee, which was formed in April 2008, met 12 times and was dissolved at its last meeting on Aug. 13.

According to Morin, the previs subcommittee started with a mandate to educate and share knowledge within the film industry on the benefits of the craft. "But early on it became clear that previsualization meant different things to different people, and that it had grown organically into an umbrella for a variety of similar but not identical processes that varied depending on when they took place in the production workflow," Morin explains. "For that reason, in parallel with the education work, the committee also entered in a process of classifying and defining the broad categories of previsualization: Pitchvis, D-vis, Technical previs, On-set previs and Postvis." They also recommended that "previs" should be spelled with an "s" and not a "z":

Previs: a collaborative process that generates preliminary versions of shots or sequences, predominantly using 3D animation tools and a virtual environment. It enables filmmakers to visually explore creative ideas, plan technical solutions and communicate a shared vision for efficient production.

Pitchvis: illustrates the potential of a project before it has been fully funded or greenlit. As part ofdevelopment, these sequences are conceptual, to be refined or replaced during pre-production.

Technical Previs: incorporates and generates accurate camera, lighting, design and scene layout information to help define production requirements. This often takes the form of dimensionaldiagrams that illustrate how particular shots can be accomplished, using real-world terms andmeasurements.

On-Set Previs: creates realtime (or near realtime) visualizations on location to help the director, visual effects supervisor, cinematographer and crew quickly evaluate captured imagery. This includes the use of techniques that can synchronize and composite live photography with 2D or 3D virtual elements for immediate visual feedback.

Postvis: combines digital elements and production photography to validate footage selection, provideplaceholder shots for editorial, and refine effects design. Edits incorporating postvis sequences areoften shown to test audiences for feedback, and to producers and visual effects vendors for planning and budgeting.

D-Vis (Design Visualization: utilizes a virtual framework in pre-production that allows for early in-depth design collaborationbetween the filmmakers. Before shots are developed, d-vis provides a preliminary, accurate virtual design space within which production requirements can be tested, and locations can be scouted.Approved design assets are created and made available to other previs processes.

PLF report on Iron Man proved useful in understanding previs and postvis. © 2008 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2008 Marvel Ent.

"Another key learning was that previs continues to evolve, and that previs practitioners worldwide would benefit from a permanent organization centered on their craft," Morin continues. "For that reason, the previs practitioners on our committee decided to join forces for the greater good and create a new, permanent non-profit trade organization centered on previsualization. At the last meeting of the previs committee, all members gave their full support to the new organization. That new organization is the single most important outcome of the previs committee. "

Meanwhile, funding for the society will come through corporate sponsorship (Autodesk is the first) and dues. There will be three main categories for membership, with fees to be determined: professional (practitioners), associate (the community that interfaces with previs) and educational (educators as well as students).

They are also interested in working with technology makers to better focus on tools that best benefit previs.

"The society will be the best thing to happen to previs since its birth," adds Gregoire. "We've needed a means to define the value statement of previs and discuss best practices. I really hope that we are successful in building a vibrant community that will engender people from all walks of production to come together and start talking about how we can utilize digital filmmaking techniques as a successful unit. We're going to be working really hard to build the visibility of previs in the eyes of consumers and put real data behind what we have done, what we are doing and what we can do in the future. I also hope that our starting this society encourages everyone -- from people interested in using previs to students looking to learn previs techniques -- to get involved in the previs world."

POV provided instruction on Journey to the Center of the Earth and stereoscopic previs. © MMVII New Line Prods., INC. and Walden Media, LLC.

Adds Pohl: "Previs is more than a simple disposable tool. It is a process crucial to any kind of artist desiring to create a better work of art. Whether that's in film production, architectural design, motion graphics or game cinematics, previs helps make monumental tasks manageable and clarifies the artist's vision."

Adds McDowell, "This group of independent previs practitioners came together within the Previs committee, and as the core practitioners in the industry they were vital to providing the committee members with history, context and an insight into their full range of skills and the uses of previs across all production. It was clear that the results and findings of the Previs committee needed to be widely disseminated, and that there will be no better group to do this, and to manage the future possibilities and outcome of previs for our industry, than the Previs Society.

"It is also clear that previs by it range of definitions, and by definition, transcends the traditional compartmentalizing of the film crafts. New digital production demands a non-linear workflow that is available to all departments and to the director and all creative leads. It requires a collaborative workspace that threads through all production iteratively generates the metadata of any film from inception, and gathers and distributes information throughout the production. Previs is perfectly placed to provide this virtual production space from early concept and design through locations, blocking, sequence, capture and post production, while managing technical data, assets and footage throughout production.

Prince Caspian provided another instructive case study. © Disney Enterprises Inc. and Walden Media LLC.

"In essence the Previs Society will be the gateway to educating filmmakers who are increasingly working in a digital production in how to fully exploit new processes to make films whose emotional and storytelling content is fully supported by technology. As a production designer who has worked with and alongside previs since 1998 I'm honored to be a charter member of the society and to support their good work."

Edwards emphasizes that previs needs to be adaptable to any situation."You have your generalist, skill set team that can respond to any changes, any request and cohesively pull together the vision from multiple inputs with different collaborators: visual effects, art department, camera, editorial, the director, the studio, the budget all have to be considered when crafting an effective previs sequence. It's a very difficult and demanding job and an important role in the production process. And so we hope this society will begin to further education of productions about how to take advantage of that potential."

2012 provided a further case study. Courtesy of Sony Pictures.>

That includes the ASC, according to Green, and the society is continuing dialogue with them. "DPs don't always see the previs process as a place where they have a role. So their involvement is something we hope to emphasize -- that if DPs are involved making the creative and technical decisions in the previs process, previs can provide more benefit for the actual shoot."

"We want to reach out to everyone that engages in previs," Edwards adds. "If we can build a community that is as interdisciplinary and collaborative as the actual previs process, then we will be well on the way to achieving our main goals."

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.