The gaming and esports industry is already transforming the world of competitive sports by attracting mass audiences online. Now the gaming engines that underpin the sector might be set to disrupt film and television production as well. 

In-camera visual effects are emerging as a promising alternative to traditional green screens and practical sets, thanks to advances in Unreal Engine 4, the video game engine which brings the elements together in real time. 

With COVID-19  lockdown restrictions biting, the technique is also being offered as a safer way to film because it typically requires less crew and much of the work can be done remotely in pre and post production houses.

Last month, Spectre Studios opened the first local full service LED virtual production service in its Sydney studios. Spectre Studios uses the LED walls along with game engine processing and real time camera tracking to display scenes behind actors on set. The scene environments synch with the camera, adjusting to its movements.

A live demo of the process last week showed impressive results with certain shots being imperceptibly different from practical locations. There are restrictions of course –there are limits on angles, focal lengths and lighting – but for shots with shallow depth of field or moving background like in-car, “virtual production” or ICVFX appears a genuine option for filmmakers in Australia.

Spectre Studios director, Mark Grentell, told Which-50, the results being seen now are the result of a confluence of technologies but the gaming engine is the key component.

“Gaming engines have accelerated in growth and fidelity and capability rapidly in the last five years – even less than that now,” Grentell says.

Spectre Studios has been experimenting with Unreal Engine 4 for more than four years and moving into Virtual Production was a natural progression. The approach only requires minor adjustments to filming techniques, according to Grentell, and is proving popular with many types of clients.

He says while ICVFX is not a total replacement for green screens or practical sets, it does have the potential to improve accessibility for filmmakers.

“It is going to be a much more efficient, effective way to shoot. Hopefully it’s going to bump up independent and mid-level films to get a higher production standard, give them access to environments and capabilities with shooting they otherwise wouldn’t have.

“And obviously it’s going to make it cheaper and more efficient and effective for big films to shoot complicated sequences.”

Removing even a handful of shots from a post production schedule can be a huge time and cost saver, according to Grentell, who directed Australian feature films The Merger and Backyard Ashes.

It is also a safer alternative in certain scenarios, Grentell says, telling Which-50 clients are looking to the technology to help with COVID-19 restrictions,

“We work with a lot of our clients remotely via Zoom or Screenshare in developing or building the content, and testing and working out a lot of the shots in pre[-production].

“And that way the time on set is more efficient, more safe, and it gives you another string to your bow when it comes to either insurance policies or just having a COVID-safe shoot option.

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