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Are the new virtual production type shoots interesting or boring? (5 replies and 6 comments)

Anca
3 months ago
Anca 3 months ago

So I’ve read a bit about the Mandalorian and this new way of shooting with digital projection screens in the background and although it is technically interesting and certainly original, as a DoP (and maybe I don’t know enough about this subject so feel free to contradict me) I think it must be very boring to work on one of those shoots. If this new technology is the future will it make DoPs redundant? Will it make our jobs really boring? Will location shoots be a thing of the past? Or is it going to be used for very specialised shoots? What are peoples’ thoughts on this?

Jacob W.
3 months ago
Jacob W. 3 months ago

Interested in this too, I am. (My unprofessional thoughts, I give - and I can't speak from a DP's sense, just a crew members perspective)

I think digital screen projection is better than showing up to a stage surrounded in blue (that's just the worst in my opinion) but also, my most beloved memories working on set are when I've been on some incredible and breathtaking locations. I traveled and worked on the top of a mountain in Banff and it was the greatest thing ever and that's when I decided this industry was 100% for me.

Logistically, (I imagine) productions and producers will always push for the digital projection screen granted they have the money (which as time progresses the technology will become cheaper and cheaper) because it's easier and less to manage, but I think if you have Directors and DP's who continue to push the 'Shoot it on Location' route, then movies will still be shot on location. I think locations give you wayyyy more layers and textures and it's more authentic, because, well, IT IS REAL!

I always want to go to a location, brave the elements, brave the unforeseen and the uncontrollable, but digital projection on sound stages are logistically more comfortable. Also some people get kicks out of the advanced tech, I get kicks out of being in Colon, Panama in the slummy streets, immersed in the culture shooting a third act battle sequence. Even if it's more difficult, it's just cooler and a hell of a lot more fun!

Anca
3 months ago

I completely agree Jacob. It’s one of the perks of the job that you get to see different places and immerse yourself in them. You made a good point, it’s better than bluescreen but I am not worried that it will replace blue/greenscreen but that it will replace going to a real location.

Jacob W.
3 months ago

You aren't wrong. And I fear it will take over. Netflix is implementing this new tech in some of their new "content" as well. Once they get ahold of it, it's all over. All I know is that when my name gets called to film a feature, you bet it will be on location. I think as long as the young, next generation has enough imagination to write and push for continuing physical filming locations, then we have a chance.

Jacob W.
3 months ago

But to answer, yes, I think this technology could replace going to a real location. Mandalorian didn't have to go to a desert to shoot the exteriors in Season 1. Build a sand floor and the rest is on the projection screen, boom, no need to travel to Tunisia.

Roger Deakins
3 months ago
Roger Deakins 3 months ago

I would not enjoy sitting on a sound stage in a 'fake' environment for months at a time even if there is craft service close by and I can sleep in my m own bed at night. I am sure the way of shooting is challenging and technically interesting, the results are certainly good if not always totally believable. But, to paraphrase Clarke Gable talking to Marilyn Munroe in 'The Misfits', it sounds like 'wages' to me. Give me shooting in a real desert any day!

dmullenasc
3 months ago
dmullenasc 3 months ago

I think the expense of the LED virtual stages and the expense of building elements in pre-production in advance will always be the factored into the equation of doing it on stage versus on location. For a VFX-heavy show where half the backgrounds have to be created in CGI anyway, it makes more sense... but for your typical drama, there would have to be a strong economic argument for going with this approach because it isn't necessarily cheaper. I can see it being more of a technique along the lines of process work for certain sequences just as in classic Hollywood productions that used rear-projection, but if you have a scene in a big restaurant, there is less incentive to rent an LED virtual stage and shoot it there with CGI plates instead of in a restaurant.

Also, these virtual sets and screens showing landscapes can't reproduce hard sunlight -- an LED screen showing an image with the sun in the sky can't create a very bright, hard light source for the action -- they almost always end up being overcast and dusk scenes. Or they are set in some canyon or forest where you can justify the hard sun (from an off-camera light) only hitting parts of the scene.

Roger Deakins
3 months ago
Roger Deakins 3 months ago

Yes, and there is always a disconnect between the live element and the screen, which is quite limiting to any deep action. How could you do that final shot in 'The Searchers' for instance? John Wayne would walk out to a screen.

nfreeman
3 months ago

In Ep. 48 with Rob Legato, Roger and James both remarked on the difference it makes to performers being in real world locations - but although many of these posts refer to the experiential adventure of travelling to unknown locations for crews, I wonder about the impact of that real world physical experience on filmmakers' aesthetic choices in conveying those locations as affective story worlds for the audience

The Byre
3 months ago
The Byre 3 months ago

The same thing that happened in audio is now happening to the image.  It is the steady takeover of creation by confection.

In audio, because we can do anything, we do nothing.  It began with silly little things that were just convenient like samples.  We don't need to go out and find a real vintage car horn, we can use a sample.  We can record digitally and no longer have to cut lengths of tape and play them in and sync-up machines.  

Then came the steady replacement of orchestras and the creation of different atmospheres without having to have different rooms to record in - just use a Lexicon machine.  

Now it is all virtual and even the best software for getting those special sounds is either free or dirt-cheap.  ADR is now just all done in the same VO booth - it may not sound good but it is so much cheaper than doing it properly!

Lord of the Rings III had a music budget of £5m - they didn't make that mistake again!  When word got out that the guy doing the arrangements was mixing stems on his laptop, budgets were suitably adjusted to laptop size for the next in the series.

They'll take your scenery away.  They'll chip away at what it means to be a cinematographer, bit-by-bit.  First the backdrops, then the props.  They are working on the actors, they replaced most of the extras ages ago.  

Never mind the sun - they'll get that right in the end.  Never mind the hero walking into the sunset - they'll crack that one as well.  And while they're there, they'll add a copy of the Taj Mahal in the desert - because they can!

John Wayne will be recreated to fight in the next 'Cowboys & Aliens' - because they can!  And with a CG Charlie Chaplin for the comic relief!

The serendipity of the DoP finding a lucky image, a special light that happens just that once will be reduced to some dweeb with a copy of Maya or Blender - or more likely, whatever replaces them.  That special sunset will come from a library of sunsets.  That scorching sun in the desert will be a plug-in.

Set-dressing will be wireframes to be rendered in post.

When it started in audio, it was expensive.  A reverb machine like my Lexicon 960 cost nearly $20k, then it was $15k and then they replaced it with plug-ins.  That $100k mixer with 100 outboard-effects is now a free download.  DaVinci-2K was a $250,000 package.  I attended the launch party at IBC in about '98.

20 years ago, it took years of experience and chemistry to create a 'look'.  Then it took experience to create a LUT.  Now it is a menu option - Pam's Labyrinth, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gone with the Wind, Sin City - menu options.  Everyone is a master colourist!

I'd give it ten years before the DoP, the art director, the set designer and the gaffers are replaced by algorithms.

It's just a question of how far down that rabbit hole do you want to go.

Jacob W.
3 months ago

This is a very depressing post. And although you are pretty correct about it all and the way things seem to be heading, I refuse to accept your 10 year algorithm assumption and will always reject this reality. Cup half full Byre... The young generation must carry the torch set before us, not deep into a computer, but out into the real world. I'm going to go to set in a few hours, have my crappy crafty coffee, roll my cart out and Prop up the stuntmen/BG, and love every minute of watching Sly Stallone roll around and pretend to beat up Bad Guys in a choreographed fight sequence. And when something unforeseen occurs, and we have to come up with a solution on the fly and alter the sequence, I will laugh about how a dumb algorithm wouldn't ever work.

The Byre
3 months ago

"And although you are pretty correct about it all and the way things seem to be heading, I refuse to accept your 10-year algorithm assumption and will always reject this reality."

Look at what has happened to the music industry - that is the future of film. It is today all centred around small home studios either owned by musicians or by producers. Listen to the top hip-hop, country, pop, rock, whatever and compare that to the days of early rock, pop, hip-hop, etc.

There is a dreadful sameness that comes from everybody using the same samples, the same four programmes, the same presets, the same beats, the same everything. Gone are the days when labels stumped up thousands in advances to finance session musicians, arrangers and large studios. MIDI-driven sample progressions have replaced music.

It has already happened in audio for film. Just the difference between the quality of a few years ago and today where the ADR work or the Foleys is deteriorating before our ears. Every voice recorded in a small VO booth, every gun-shot hitting metal makes the same sound. Every explosion sounds identical to every other explosion. No time to do it properly. It has to be ready by yesterday!

(I'll be interested to see what Villeneuve does with Dune as he seems to be one of the few directors working today who still cares about the quality of the soundtrack. The sound design for BR2049 was a masterpiece!)

The cinematographer may want to wait for that perfect sky, but try telling that to the person watching the dollars when a crew of ten and a cast of twenty are standing around and the clock is striking half-past overtime! "We'll fix it in post."

"The young generation must carry the torch set before us, not deep into a computer, but out into the real world."

I'm a very optimistic guy and I just hope that audiences get tired of CG driven drivel showing space-monkeys fighting other space-monkeys. But one look at the box-office for the 'Transformers' franchise shows that the BO is usually about five-times the budget - and then there's the long-tail of residuals.

So we can put our money into a Coen Brothers film and hope to get maybe 10-15% profit if we're lucky, or we can dump the farm onto 'Transformers v. Alien' and do better than doubling our money.

That's the reality of the rabbit hole.

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