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Virtual production is the saviour of filmmaking in the Covid-19 era

Virtual production is the saviour of filmmaking in the Covid-19 era

The pandemic battered the film industry, but there is hope – see how virtual sets are saving films from delays and shutdowns.

Tentpoles like “The Batman” at Warner Bros. experienced especially troubled shoots. On top of shutting down at the start of the pandemic, “The Batman” shoot was again suspended later in 2020 when star Robert Pattinson contracted COVID. Over at Universal, a third “Jurassic World” film experienced similar problems; both films are now scheduled for 2022 instead of their original 2021 release dates.

Virtual production is one of the biggest winners of Covid-19, as this format of filmmaking is proving to be especially useful in the coronavirus era. “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ had already been using virtual production techniques prior to the mid-March 2020 production delays and shutdowns, miraculously finishing its shoot just days before the delays and suspensions shook the industry.

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Industrial Light and Magic is one visual effects company whose computer-generated backdrops were used in the last “Jurassic World” film as well as “The Mandalorian.” With large LED screen arrays across four studios, the company can generate elaborate visual backdrops in place of green screens, allowing filmmakers to see what will ultimately comprise actual shots used for a film in real time.

These LED screens have many practical benefits, like skirting a green screen’s reflection on shiny surfaces in any given shot, but they also allow for easier shoots requiring less travel and lodging for cast and crew — a reduction valuable during a global pandemic.

Game engines such as Epic’s Unreal Engine — used to render the LED backgrounds in “The Mandalorian” — are also an example of how improved tech can expedite the time it takes to stage and shoot elaborate scenes with intense visuals in real time, leading to quicker post-production pipelines. Using virtual sets can lead to faster production times and its cheaper as well.

“Instead of expensive post-production processes, virtual production brings a huge amount of the visual work forward, allowing the filmmakers to plan their shoot in a different way.” said Ben Smith, Rebellion’s head of film, TV and publishing.

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