ETC and Partners to Pilot Test Virtual Production Capabilities

The Entertainment Technology Center at USC has selected filmmakers Hannah Bang, Margo Sawaya and Sabina Vajrača to receive the 2020 Innovative Technology Award for their virtual production-based project, “The Ripple Effect.” The trio developed the futuristic live-action project with the aim of testing the limits of virtual production. “With Unreal Engine, we can minimize on set crew and provide better controls for talent and staff,” explained executive producer Erik Weaver. “We want to get people back to work while keeping cast and crews safe.”

This year’s Innovative Technology Award is focused on using technologies that help minimize production time and the number of people needed on set in order to foster safety in this COVID era. The award, which is in accordance with USC’s mission for diversity and inclusion, is sponsored by ETC member companies and collaborators.

“The Ripple Effect” is supported by Amazon Studios, Microsoft, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Equinix and Seagate. In-kind project supporters include 5th Kind, ALT Systems, ARRI, DigitalFilm Tree, Halon Entertainment, ICVR, Lux Machina, Perforce, Pixit Media, REALTRA, Silverdraft, Stargate Studios, Technicolor, Unreal Engine, Verizon Media’s RYOT, Virtual Wonders, xR Stage and Xsens.

“Our studio is thrilled to support this innovative storytelling initiative,” said Annie Chang, Universal Pictures VP of creative technologies. “As we look to the future of filmmaking, there’s never been a more appropriate time to leverage technology to help us protect the safety of our casts and crews, and ‘The Ripple Effect’ applications of game engine and other technologies will give us an opportunity to do just that.”

“xR Stage is excited to be on the leading edge of the technology that is advancing the making of films in a safe and entertaining fashion,” said xR Stage CEO Isaac Campos.

Writer/director Hannah Bang noted that “the network of talented people and tools supporting this project have been incredible. I also see that at the end of the day, the technology is just here to help us connect. I mean both in a literal sense, through the virtual production and game engine build, but also the end product, which is the story we are telling.”

“I think of the project as people trying to create connection in a situation that makes it almost impossible to do so,” she explained. “I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”

“This is a rare moment in our industry,” added writer/director Margo Sawaya, “where the trials and tribulations of society can legitimately be helped by the advancement of technology. Cinematic storytelling is changing, and the way we relate to one another along with it. It’s an honor to be learning something new every day on this project.”

As a research center and think tank within USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, ETC’s mission is to bring together leading visionaries to collaborate on the future of entertainment technology. From script to production of these shorts, the creative and tech teams work together to develop the story and integrate technology into the project, including best practices for incorporating AR and VR into the linear physical production.

This is Weaver’s fourth ETC film project as executive producer. ETC’s previous films — “Wonder Buffalo,” “The Suitcase” and “Luna” — were supported by partners including Disney/ABC Television Group, G-Technology, Google, Sony Electronics, Amazon Web Services and Avalanche.