HPA Tech Retreat: Cloud-Enabled Virtual Production – Part 2

In a conversation on cloud-enabled virtual production during the HPA Tech Retreat, Jack Wenzinger of Amazon Web Services’ Global M&E Partners vertical asked how those interested in virtual production can retool existing skills. ETC@USC senior consultant Erik Weaver stated that participating in Epic Games’ Unreal Fellowship program was “an eye-opening experience.” “Understanding what a blueprint is and how to put things in a timeline gave me a fundamental understanding,” he said. “I highly recommend watching all the videos you can on Unreal and start walking through the tutorials.”

Weaver continued that, “everything in the future is going to be previs, techvis and virtual production.” “Understanding things like a virtual camera will be a critical component to a cinematographer in the future,” he said. “They will want to be able to see the magic angle they’ll potentially get on set which is different from not being able to visualize anything with a green screen.”

Solstice Studios chief technology officer Edward Churchward added that Unreal Engine’s accessibility makes it easy to get up and running. Mo-Sys Engineering technical director James Uren noted that anyone interested can download Unreal and start self-training via sample projects and tutorials. “Traditional 3D rigging, modeling and lighting are still important tools,” he said. “But there’s a lot of power in the Unreal Engine as well as other game engines.”

Wenzinger pointed out that leveraging the cloud enabled collaboration with talent all over the world. Uren noted how critical that collaboration has become in the era of COVID-19. Weaver added that, for productions at ETC, he’s worked with artists from around the world. “It’s all based on the power of the cloud and global collaboration,” he said.

Wenzinger asked participants what the focus needs to be to bring cloud-enabled virtual production to the next level. Weaver said “the scaling of knowledge” is important. “At ETC, we have formed a group that’s all the heads of virtual production and we’re looking at all the aspects of it, starting with the physical equipment on the set,” he said. “There’s a difference between what your eye sees, what testing equipment sees and what cameras see.”

Weaver added that ETC will release a 150-page white paper and a dozen videos based on its experience with the recent “Ripple Effect” production (pictured above), part of the organization’s effort to share knowledge.

Churchward said that toolsets are an important focus for the future. “There are layers for the pipeline to be driven on top,” he said. “Toolsets will become robust.” Uren agreed with both assessments and added craft. “That comes from experienced craft practitioners using the tools over and over again,” he said. “We haven’t done that bit — because only a handful of shows have done it, therefore only a handful of people that have done it in a real-world context.”

Wenzinger concluded that “it’s also the IT side. “Being able to aggregate all that metadata to help build the standard Erik is talking about is going to take some time,” he said. “But it also takes talent and there’s no shortage for demand of talent in this space.”