Our journey into Virtual Production continues! Here at CoPilot, we’ve been learning as much as we can about Virtual Production, and have even built our perfect PC to handle virtual production projects.
Over the last few years, we’ve been building our toolkit of virtual production processes by using smaller versions of the tech we’ve described here. While we’ve been able to create some pretty amazing visuals using miniatures and TV screens, there’s just no replacement for a fully loaded virtual production facility.
Our team has big goals for what we can create using virtual production, and we were excited to take our next steps towards making it happen.
That’s why we travelled to Pinewood Studios in Toronto, Canada to experience first hand what big virtual production feels like on a full LED volume and with a dedicated production crew.
If you’re unfamiliar, Pinewood Studios was originally founded as a UK-based film studio, and a leader in the space; renowned for world-class facilities and responsible for some of the world’s biggest productions. Marvel, 007, and even Harry Potter films have all been shot on Pinewood stages. Needless to say, we were pretty excited.
Shooting on a full virtual production stage was a project 2 years in the making for us. What first started as a quick chat in passing about the cool new tech they used to shoot the Mandalorian, quickly turned into a deep dive on everything and anything virtual production related. Along this journey we spent time learning virtual production from the pros at Epic Games, as well as industry experts Edward Dawson Taylor, HaZ Dulull and many more.
Before we got started on producing our short film “Imagine”, it was time to familiarize ourselves with the soundstage. Located within Pinewood Studios is SIRT - the Screen Industries Research and Training Centre. SIRT is one of the only Unreal Engine Authorized Training Centres in Canada and is dedicated to exploring the possibilities and opportunities of virtual production filmmaking.
We spent our first two days at Pinewood working with SIRT to receive specialized training in areas like building project workflows, strengthening our tech calibration skills, and of course - getting some hands-on experience with the technology itself.
Once we were all up to speed… it was time to bring our short film to life.
The very first thing that needed to happen when we got to Pinewood was to load our project up at the Brain Bar. You’ll recall from our explainer on virtual production basics that the Brain Bar refers to the team of people and the tech working behind the scenes to tweak and colour the virtual environments in real time during production.
Here’s how our production came together:
Storyboarding: At CoPilot, we’re visual storytellers - so story always comes first. While we knew what we wanted to produce before we arrived at Pinewood, there were a few considerations we had to make once on set.
“Imagine” has three major locations: a bedroom, a jungle, and a desert. Because this was a real production with real time constraints, we had to be careful about which scenes were being shot on which day.
Coming from a film production background, we also had to contend with the new challenge of only shooting in one direction: towards the LED volume. It pushed us to think differently about how we understand filmmaking and what virtual production can make possible.
Setting The Scene: In our experience, this mostly meant building IKEA furniture (we’re talking a lot of IKEA furniture).
Furniture building aside, the decisions made around physical assets on set can be critical in making the virtual environment feel more realistic when filmed. For example, we experienced first hand how the level of detail varies for certain props (i.e. a simple mat may work as a jungle floor, but a prop closer to the camera requires a much greater level of detail).
One prop in particular - a tesseract cube that our main character interacts with - was refracting light too well. With a little elbow grease, and some movie spray prop magic, we had the prop looking perfectly scuffed up in no time.
Ready To Shoot: With the props perfected, we were ready to shoot. We brought in a 75mm anamorphic Cooke cinema lens
Having only 3-eight hours days on set, every minute counted. We started with the bedroom scenes before moving on to the jungle scene late on day 2, and finally the desert scene on day 3 (pro tip: sand always goes last).
While there was definitely a learning curve to shooting virtual production, the time we spent with SIRT left us feeling excited and ready to bring our concept for “Imagine” to life. The 3 days on set flew by, and before we knew it… we had wrapped our first production at a full-scale VR facility.
After it was all said and done, we had the best time with the incredible teams at SIRT and Pinewood, and couldn’t be happier with the product that we came away with.
Check out the video below for footage from our time at Pinewood, along with a preview of “Imagine” - our short film shot with virtual production.