Hello and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your business guide to the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we explore how virtual production technologies are helping to decentralize Hollywood and share some recommendations for what to read, watch and play this weekend.
How LED screens are changing film production
Things were looking good for Diamond View at the start of 2020. The Tampa-based creative video agency was shooting Super Bowl spots and other glitzy commercials for clients like Jack Daniels, Subway and Jeep. Then COVID-19 arrived and productions across the country were shut down overnight.
“When the pandemic hit, it was very obvious: if we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t do our job,” Diamond View founder Tim Moore said in a recent chat with Protocol. “If we can’t solve this problem, we will go bankrupt.”
The team needed a way out and came across virtual production, a new approach centered on real time which, among other things, includes the use of giant LED screens to film the actors in front of whatever background a scene calls for.
- Using these types of LED screens offers two advantages: scenes don’t need to be shot on location, and talent doesn’t have to act in a vacuum in front of some green screen. Instead, actors, directors, cameramen, and everyone else can see in real time what the scene will look like.
- These types of LED screens were used by Disney’s Industrial Light & Magic to shoot “The Mandalorian” and by Netflix to make “1899,” among other projects.
- Moore soon discovered that off-the-shelf LED technology was too expensive for his company, so he began sourcing the components himself. “99% of the world’s LEDs are made in Shenzhen,” he said.
- Moore’s team built a 100-foot LED wall from scratch for the company’s Tampa studio and used it to shoot commercials for clients like Mercedes-Benz.
- Then something unexpected happened: Moore started getting a lot of incoming requests to build custom LED walls for third-party studios. “We never thought of this as a business model,” Moore said. “We were just cheapskates who couldn’t afford the real stuff.”
Encouraged by the response, Moore decided to double down on virtual production. Diamond View created Vū Technologies as a separate company, installed 10 LED walls in third-party studios, and raised a $17 million funding round to create its own network of virtual production studios.
- Vū has since opened studios in Las Vegas and Nashville, and plans to move to Orlando soon.
- The company wants to build an extensive network of studios across the country, which can then be used to film Hollywood-quality fare everywhere. “We expect to open about 10 this year,” Moore said.
Virtual production allows companies to effectively decentralize their work. Instead of having everyone in one place, they can cooperate in multiple studio spaces.
- “If the director is in New York, the actor is in LA, the DP is in Atlanta, they can walk into a studio and they can make a movie or a video,” Moore said. “This is a major paradigm shift that will really disrupt the industry in the next two to three years.”
- This kind of decentralized approach is not only cheaper and faster, but it’s also a safer way to do business during future waves of COVID-19. “Our goal is not to have hundreds and hundreds of people on set,” Moore said. “It’s a much more confined and controlled environment.”
Virtual production is adopted across the industry for various reasons. Along with cost savings and security concerns, LED walls and other real-time technologies allow directors and producers to change things up during a shoot, where they previously had to fix errors in post-production.
- “That doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to make the movie any faster,” Shawn Dunn, senior product manager at Epic Games, said during a recent panel on the subject. “But you’re going to see a lot more iterations, which will give us a much better product in the end.”
- Dunn, whose company’s Unreal Engine is often used in conjunction with LED walls for virtual productions, also admitted that the industry is still in its “MacGyver” phase, with a number of companies developing local technologies to meet their needs.
- “We’ve seen people put up an LED wall that was just one TV,” he said.
Vū Technologies has now done 150 shoots in front of LED walls, but Moore is already thinking beyond commercial video productions. Eventually, the same technology could be used for virtual events, corporate training and even education, he suggested. Vū’s ultimate goal was to build “the largest network of multi-user simulators in the world,” Moore said. “I think it will spread to several other industries.”
A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT
Today’s employment landscape is challenging for organizations looking to recruit and retain top technology talent. Recent labor trends, many of which are fueling the Great Resignation, have shown leaders across industries that their employees are looking for more.
TGIF: How to spend your weekend
“Can television eliminate the cult of the founder of technology?” — Recode. Hollywood’s slow transformation into tech industry skeptics has arrived, as the aftershow shows detailing Silicon Valley hubris and fraud officially replaces those who lovingly satirized tech and, before that, glorified it .
Although it took the entertainment industry a few years and a staggering number of book deals to catch up with the less respectful tone of the media, we are now seeing some of the biggest and messiest stories of the last 10 years making their way to TV. Rani Molla at Recode sets out to find out if Hollywood is truly up to the task of portraying the complexity behind Travis Kalanick and Elizabeth Holmes.
“Dragon Ball” – Crunchyroll. For many anime fans, “Dragon Ball” and its sequel were the shows that started it all. And now, thanks to the merger of anime streaming services under Sony, the entire “Dragon Ball” series is available on Crunchyroll. That includes the original 153-episode “Dragon Ball” run, the nine-season “Dragon Ball Z” run, and all the inexplicably weird “Dragon Ball GTs,” if you’re adventurous enough to brave this non-canon spinoff. Crunchyroll offers both subtitles and dubs.
“Raised by Wolves”, season 2 – HBO Max. Ridley Scott’s “Raised by Wolves” is one of the most original and haunting science fiction tales in recent memory. It manages to combine several daunting subjects – religious warfare, the Book of Genesis, artificial intelligence and contact with extraterrestrial life – into a cohesive narrative about the restarting of human civilization on a hostile planet, under the direction of two humanoid androids much more sophisticated than they seem.
The second season delves into the devotional nature of religious worship, as well as the development of a functional society trying to balance the interests of atheists and believers. Just be prepared for levitating snake monsters to haunt your dreams.
Tunic — various platforms. The brainchild of solo developer Andrew Shouldice, Tunic embodies what makes Legend of Zelda games so great. Shouldice ultimately brought on a small team to help him, alongside publisher Finji and distributor Microsoft, get the game to the finish line, and it shows. Tunic is gorgeous, with captivating music, challenging combat, and dozens of secrets hidden within its isometric landscapes.
Players of contemporary indie games might feel compelled to compare it to Acid Nerve’s Death’s Door; both feature bipedal animal protagonists who wield swords, dodging, rolling, Dark Souls-style, in strikingly similar environments. But Tunic is no imitator, and Shouldice has gone to great lengths to wear his influences on his sleeve when necessary. Tunic is more forgiving than Death’s Door and as engrossing as any top-down Zelda entry. It’s a must-play game, especially since it launched as a surprise on Xbox Game Pass this week.
A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT
Tech organizations need to look internally to find the talent they seek by upskilling and reskilling their existing tech workforce. To make this vision a reality, organizations need to focus on being creators rather than consumers of talent.
Thoughts, questions, advice? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good day, see you Tuesday.