EXCLUSIVE: As a ray of hope appears at the end of the coronavirus lockdown tunnel (fingers crossed), the industry is focusing its efforts on preparing for a post-virus world. Whether it’s cast and crew isolation, on-set temperature tests, social distanced shootings, or extra hygiene procedures, the reality is that production will take a long time to get back to normal. Forward-thinking businesses are looking into how they might be able to jump-start production by utilising technologies that could provide a safer, smarter shooting environment in the post-COVID era. One such group is Rebellion. The UK firm is a video game developer, comics publisher (it owns the 2000 AD imprint), and film and television production, with planned projects including Duncan Jones’ Rogue Trooper. It also owns Audiomotion, a VFX and motion capture business that has worked on films like Ready Player One, as well as Rebellion Studios, a large specialised film and TV production facility in Oxfordshire that launched last year.
Rebellion’s Ben Smith and Brian Mitchell told Deadline
The company is looking to use ‘virtual production,’ which combines its gaming and filmmaking expertise, to launch its own in-house productions as soon as this week, and that it has the capacity to open up the process to outside producers looking to shoot post-lockdown. The practise of shooting a film or television show in an environment created by a video game engine is known as virtual production. It equips remote crews with the capacity to control lighting, camera locations, and lenses in real time, all of which is accessible live onscreen or in 3D through a VR headset, without requiring a major on-set presence. Actors can be motion-captured into scenes in real time, and directors can see the filming unfold. Everything is shot on camera, which allows for easier adjustments and less post-production. The technique has been used on significant movies like as Disney’s The Mandalorian for a number of years, dating back to The Fellowship Of The Ring and, crucially, Avatar. Virtual production could allow ambitious shootings to take place with minimal danger of spreading now that the coronavirus has been tamed and lockdowns have been eased. According to Ben Smith, Rebellion’s head of cinema, TV, and publishing, “virtual production could be a means to get the ball moving on shoots in the near future.” “You’re in charge of your surroundings; if you want to photograph a sunset, you can do so whenever you want.” It allows you to visit numerous locations in the same day and turn things around quickly, giving you a lot more freedom. It appears to be capable of resolving a wide range of issues.” This week, the business will begin its first socially-distanced motion capture shoot, which will begin tomorrow on a project for its video games division. They’ll work alongside a husband and wife stunt team who live in the same house and can shoot in close quarters without putting themselves in danger.
The Rebellion crew will remotely manipulate cameras around the stage,
Taking footage in three dimensions without the need for anyone to be near the actors. Although the shot is pretty modest, Rebellion claims that the approach can be scaled up to work for major productions. Brian Mitchell, Head of Rebellion Film Studios and MD of Audiomotion, adds, “This is the cutting edge of where things are moving.” “Over the winter, we were already strengthening the virtual production pipeline, and now we’re evaluating where we can take it.” Currently, the firm is working on a number of larger projects involving its own IP, including a pilot for a TV series based on one of its comic books, which is currently in pre-production and will soon go into virtual production. Its long-awaited Judge Dredd TV series is still in the works. It claims, however, that its facilities are ready to host a major production from an outside corporation if the proper chance arises. “We’ll be able to shoot virtually throughout the summer.” Distancing, hygiene precautions, and other measures will be used,” Smith adds, adding that arrangements for some departments, such as costume and make-up, are still being finalised.
The majority of virtual production work is done at the pre-production stage, when environments are designed in the gaming engine, a process that can take a long time and be costly. Repurposing existing environments that were created for earlier projects is one method to speed things up.”We’ve developed a lot of Western Europe as 3D environments across our video games,” Smith explains. “We have virtual backlots in Berlin, France, the Italian Riviera, and North Africa,” says the director. You wouldn’t be able to import them [into a new shoot] right away, but we’re well on our way to being able to do so.”Smith cites the company’s computer game Sniper Elite 4, with which it created vast landscapes that depicted Italy during WWII. He claims that these might be simply changed into settings for a variety of projects. He continues, “It can be re-dressed and re-lit like a Hollywood backdrop.” The pictures would have to be pixel-upscaled from video game to cinematic quality, but Smith points out that game visuals and broadcast quality aren’t that far apart nowadays.Mitchell suggests that virtual production isn’t just for studio-level productions, but that the independent industry may be able to use it as a cost-cutting technique in the future as the technology improves. “We’ll have to see if anyone gets bonded to produce an independent production,” he says.
However, one of the obstacles could be a lack of crew training.
“No one is taught about the future of film,” Smith argues. “Last December, I attended a conference where the room was packed with freelancers who had no idea what virtual production was. So that people aren’t scared, there should be some kind of industrial training session. If a DoP doesn’t grasp what virtual production is, he may believe he needs to fully relearn his art, but he doesn’t; instead, he’s using the same lenses and abilities on the same shot in a different context.”
Once the government permits it, Smith and Mitchell predict a quick recovery to production in the United Kingdom.
“When everyone gets back on track, there will be a rise in output demand.” The phone continues to ring, but everyone is waiting. “There will be a time of extreme overcrowding, with everyone vying for stage space,” Smith says.