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Written by Andy Woodruff in conversation with Pete Ford, Director of Photography (DOP). Pete was a key part of the team for the Camberwell Studios Promo

Introduction

Virtual production has emerged as a powerful tool in modern filmmaking, offering new creative possibilities and streamlined production workflows. After concluding filming on the Camberwell Studios Promo showreel video Andy Woodruff and Pete Ford spoke about what they had learned filming in Studio 1. This has been written up here and aims to provide a comprehensive overview for film professionals. By delving into topics such as lighting, set design, and the interplay between real and virtual elements, we hope you gain some valuable insights into the art and challenges of virtual production.

Collaboration and Pre-Visualization

One of the central themes highlighted in the conversation was the importance of collaboration between the team, and especially the core team: the director, the 3D designer and the director of photography (DOP). The pre-visualization video proved to be an invaluable advantage to everyone who worked on the production. In our case, we reworked the first previz video to create a second, directly as a result of the team talking about what could be possible. The end result was an aligning of creative visions that ensured a cohesive visual style and smoother execution of shots and problem-solving before stepping onto the set.

The Role of the Director of Photography (DoP)

The Director of Photography plays a pivotal role in shaping the visual aesthetics of a film. With years of experience, the DOP leads the department responsible for the film’s overall look. They collaborate closely with the director and the person in charge of the virtual environment, leveraging their technical expertise to ensure seamless integration between physical and virtual elements. The DOP’s role extends beyond lighting and camera work; they work closely with other departments, such as set design and costume design, to create a cohesive visual style that enhances the narrative.

Technical Expertise in Virtual Production

Virtual production requires a solid understanding of the technical aspects involved. While not necessary to be an expert in every domain, having a good grasp of image processing, post-production pipelines, and the capabilities of virtual production software is essential. All filming professionals must adapt traditional lighting skills to the virtual environment, understanding the nuances of lighting techniques and the challenges of real-time compositing. They must navigate constraints related to shadows, realism, and lighting adjustments for moving subjects, all while ensuring a balance between creative intent and technical requirements.

The Advantages of RGB Lighting

We used LED and tungsten lighting on this project. It worked well, as you can see here (link to video). Nonetheless, we think RGB lighting could be a game-changer in virtual production. Its ability to offer real-time colour adjustments and flexibility during compositing and editing makes it a valuable tool. The majority of colour adjustments should be done in-camera using lighting, with compositing serving as a secondary stage for minor adjustments. RGB lighting saves time, enables quick on-set colour adjustments, to better match the real foreground elements with the virtual backgrounds or scenes. It provides creative freedom and facilitates achieving the desired colour tone for fill light, foreground light, and background light. Some systems can be managed from an app or control board and synchronised with the on-set action.

Challenges and Solutions in Virtual Production

The conversation shed light on the challenges encountered during virtual production and the innovative solutions devised. Handling shadows on the floor posed a particular difficulty, as real-time compositing limited separate treatments of subjects and shadows. The team had to strike a balance between realism and technical requirements, compromising when necessary but able to do so on-set in real-time. Lighting adjustments for moving subjects sometimes proved challenging. However, by leveraging real props, using vinyl flooring to match virtual backgrounds and meticulous planning, filmmakers found solutions to create a seamless integration between real and virtual elements.

Conclusion

The insights shared in this conversation among filming professionals highlight the complexities and rewards of virtual production. Collaborative efforts, technical expertise, and careful planning play pivotal roles in achieving successful virtual productions. As virtual production continues to evolve, filmmakers must strike a balance between virtual and traditional techniques, ensuring that creativity and spontaneity are maintained.

Top 7 Tips for DOPs in Virtual Production:

  1. Embrace Traditional Skills: Traditional skills and experience are still essential for successful virtual production.
  2. Storyboarding and Pre-Visualization: Utilize storyboarding and pre-visualization to plan shots, save time, and explore creative solutions.
  3. Adapt Lighting Techniques: Modify traditional lighting techniques for virtual environments to achieve realism and create cohesive scenes.
  4. Technical Knowledge and Creative Problem-Solving: Combine technical knowledge with problem-solving skills to address challenges and achieve a balance between realism and technical requirements.
  5. Adjust Lighting for Subject Movement: Be aware of actor movement within the virtual environment and adjust lighting accordingly for optimal conditions.
  6. Collaboration between DOP, Director, and Virtual Environment Manager: Work closely with the director and virtual environment manager to ensure that lighting, camera work, and virtual elements complement each other and enhance the narrative.
  7. Teamwork and Communication: Foster communication and collaboration between the DOP, director, and graphics team to convey the DOP’s vision and create a cohesive final product.

By following these tips, DOPs can navigate the challenges of virtual production and achieve stunning results by combining traditional skills with the opportunities offered by emerging technologies.

Pete Ford – https://www.peter-ford.com/

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