The Future, Now: Virtual production is media production

It’s not new information that the world of media production is evolving faster than ever. Thanks to the rapid development and adoption of exciting new technologies like virtual production, we are able to deliver immersive experiences that engage and delight audiences like never before.

Such stunning innovations often raise the question, “Where do we go from here?” To answer that, we must first come to a common understanding of how we talk about where we are now, and what that means in concrete terms. Also, the term “virtual production” itself can have many different definitions and interpretations – it can be difficult to keep up.

For the purposes of this article, we define virtual production as the tools, methods, and services used to create immersive experiences that combine real-time virtual content with live video. There are several disciplines under this umbrella, which can be divided into two categories:

Real talents/objects placed in a virtual world:
virtual studios
In-Camera Visual Effects (ICVFX)
Extended Reality (XR) with LED volume
Virtual Talents/Objects placed in a real world video:
Augmented Reality (AR)
Modern data-driven on-air/motion graphics

It is important to understand these terms as they represent the different ways virtual production is transforming the media and entertainment industry.

Status of virtual production
Virtual production has been on the horizon for more than 20 years (and arguably longer, depending on how you define it). However, it was the pandemic, coinciding with precipitous changes in the availability and performance of real-time graphics technology, that validated the concept and accelerated its adoption.

For broadcasters, virtual production provided a way to add production value to live television, such as B. Crowds for sporting events and virtual environments for hosts and talent that were not physically possible due to the pandemic. It also enabled remote production in new ways, allowing for the “teleportation” of talent using virtual production techniques.

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(Also read: The Reality of Virtual Production)

This could also be implemented well in feature film and drama productions. The virtual production took advantage of the availability of high-quality LED panels and made it possible to create immersive environments that talent could see and interact with, rather than being on a stage fully laden with green or blue screens with no features at all.

Ultimately, it was the technology’s photorealistic capabilities that made it mainstream. Once people saw how powerful and effective virtual productions could be (think The Mandalorian fuss), it became difficult to go back to the “old ways.” As a result, virtual production has experienced a meteoric rise and is quickly becoming the standard way of creating content.

Virtual production everywhere
When we talk about how virtual production is changing the media landscape, it’s more than just the added production value – the “wow moments” for the viewer – that are driving adoption:

1. Convergence of media production
The differences between live events, broadcast, film, TV, video games, etc. become less important than the similarities. With real-time graphics engines capable of photorealistic results, storytelling comes down to virtual assets and ownership of experiences.

Ultimately, all video-based content will have the visual impact of high-end feature films. This will become even more common as all companies quickly adopt media production tools and methods. Communication tools in healthcare, construction, engineering, consumer goods, etc. now combine the connected and scalable nature of online content with the immersive and social experience of video games.

2. Live, immersive and interactive
Virtual production is becoming more and more immersive for the viewer, and with good reason. The high visual fidelity of virtual productions offers more bandwidth for information delivery and greater emotional impact. Compare the mixed reality (MR) ad that razor manufacturer Gillette broadcast live during a 2022 NFL game to a standard banner ad on a website—it’s clear which one grabs and holds instant attention and maintains a lasting impression leaves to the viewers.

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Virtual production is not only more attention-grabbing, but also allows for personalization/segmentation of ads and content. For example, you could easily have the same “base” coffee ad, but the mug changes from a large latte to a cup of black coffee depending on the viewer. Product placement in TV shows and live events is also made easier with the ability to add virtualized products, e.g. B. a specific make of car, a pizza box, lemonade, etc.

3. Virtual Assets, Experiences and Property
As the term suggests, virtual production enables the creation of virtual assets, experiences and property. As almost all of our media consumption has shifted to a digital realm, it is becoming increasingly important to find better ways to protect and utilize intellectual property. Virtual production is the perfect vehicle to provide controlled, segmented and customized access to specific IP assets, down to individual characters, locations, scenes, etc., based on viewer choices and purchases.

That means you can choose when and what part of a performance or event you want to block for an experience and a single user. For example, Nickelodeon’s NFL Slime Time leverages key game moments like touchdowns to create an experience with the addition of AR slime cannons and more. It’s easy to imagine versions of this where viewers could buy completely unique versions of that experience just for them and their friends to experience.

4. Commodity Photorealism and High Performance Computing
Easy access to high-performance computing via cloud and GPU with photorealistic rendering and processing by modern game engines enables the creation of new media experiences and new production methods.

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Commodity photorealism and high performance computing make virtual production accessible to everyone and making it look amazing.

5. Software eats the world
Another significant trend changing the landscape of media production is the shift from proprietary hardware to out-of-the-box software solutions. In the past, media professionals relied on expensive, specialty hardware to run their workflows. However, with the increasing power and accessibility of high-performance computing, software-based solutions are becoming more viable and efficient.

What does all this mean for the future?
Taken together, these trends point to a future where virtual production is the default method of media production.

As with any disruptive technology, there are winners and losers in the scramble for adoption. However, the trend toward the commercialization of virtual manufacturing and the increasing accessibility of software-based solutions suggest that the benefits of this technology are being democratized across industries rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few dominant M&E players. The result is that any business can create immersive and interactive experiences that drive engagement and brand loyalty.

Virtual production gives media professionals a powerful new set of tools to tell stories and create experiences in new and innovative ways where the possibilities are endless.