Virtual production, an innovative blend of filmmaking and technology, has revolutionized the way we bring stories to life on the screen. In this candid interview, we sit down with seasoned expert Andy Jarosz, the Director of Virtual Production at SMASH Virtual Studios.
Andy has witnessed the rise of virtual production and actively shaped its trajectory. He brings to life the fusion of cinema and technology to this gaming technology. From its inception to its application across various mediums, we delve into the behind-the-scenes world of virtual production through a candid conversation with Andy. Enjoy the conversation Q&A…
Getting Started in Virtual Production
Q: How did you get into virtual production?
A: I’ve been interested in filmmaking since I was ten years old, and I started to learn programming to make video games in high school. I never really expected both those aspects of my life to combine! I was a camera assistant for five years, was a union SFX coordinator for 8, and ran a company that built camera accessories during that time.
When VP was first unveiled by ILM, I was delighted by the idea of a technology that could mean we never needed to shoot overnights, deal with rain or snow, and allowed pretty much any location to be attainable. I found myself in a unique situation–I’ve been using game engines like Unreal for most of my life, I’ve been on film sets for a decade, and I had a SFX workshop that could build anything. I started to build hardware and software tools, many of which would become industry standards and met with partners to get a studio off the ground. It took a while, but we eventually made it happen!
Virtual Production Across Mediums
Q: At Smash, how have production companies used virtual production? TV, film, commercials? What types of environments have been created?
A: As we primarily come from the film and TV industry, the studio was built with that workflow in mind. We’ve worked with Amazon and Sony on various TV projects, as well as a number of pilots and feature films. We also cater to high-end commercials–allowing them to make unique spots that really stand out. We’ve done all kinds of environments–from coffee shops to full forests, and even other planets.
Navigating Pre-Production for Virtual Shoots
Q: What are the top things to consider during pre-production when planning a virtual shoot?
A: For us, the big thing is to test as early and often as possible. We like to invite the crew to come see the studio and ask questions as soon as they can, and as 3D environments are being built we constantly shoot tests to get feedback. You can only go so far with a 3D environment by just seeing it on a computer monitor–the sooner you can see it through a camera lens, the better.
The Technical Ensemble Behind the Magic
Q: Can you define the roles of the technical team needed for a successful virtual production shoot?
A: At SMASH, we keep things pretty streamlined. Our approach is to test and iterate in pre production, so that during the shoot we don’t need an army of people to run things. At a minimum, we have a VP supervisor (myself) who is interfacing between the crew and the virtual team. We have a world operator who is controlling Unreal Engine, and if possible we like to have someone who helped build the 3D environment to be present to help as well.
Surprising Benefits of Virtual Production
Q: Have you found any surprising benefits over the productions you’ve done beyond the obvious “talking points for VP”?
A: It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when VP is the right tool for a job. In general, we say that if you have a shoot and your reaction is “How are we going to do this?!” then VP is very often the solution. Obviously, it can transport you to amazing places and time periods–but it can also let you shoot an overnight during the day, do company moves in minutes (great for celebrity guests) and eliminates permits and lockups. It’s not magic, and it doesn’t eliminate the need to build physical sets or even VFX, but when used correctly it can save a lot of time!
Virtual production has seamlessly woven technology into the fabric of filmmaking, bringing dreams to life with newfound efficiency and creativity. From the origins of this extraordinary journey to its diverse applications, our conversation offers a glimpse into a world where imagination knows no bounds.
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