The Pros And Cons Of Virtual Production

If you haven’t heard about virtual film production before, you may think it’s something to do with virtual reality, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong.

However, instead of being a headset-based form of entertainment, it’s actually a kind of filmmaking that’s used to make many of the biggest movies we see today.

Traditionally, filmmakers would hire a location scout, find the perfect filming location, travel there with cast and crew, shoot the movie and then edit the resulting footage.

However, with virtual production the only place everyone needs to travel to is the studio, where entire environments are digitally created on a big screen in front of which the cast performs.

There may be real props in the scenes with them, but the background is entirely computer generated, and can be altered at every stage of production. Maybe you’re already thinking that this sounds either an entirely good or entirely bad development, but the truth is much more nuanced according to the industry itself.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of this new kind of filmmaking.

The pros

Needless to say, flying a cast and crew out to different parts of the world to make a film can be expensive. It may involve moving between various locations, often between countries, and the travel alone can also impede production time.

Not to mention the constraints placed on a production by adverse weather, lighting at different times of day, and any other unpredictable elements that shooting in a real world location may throw up.

And then there’s the fact that some films require a location that doesn’t actually exist anywhere in the world, instead needing a location that looks real but can only be found in the imaginations of the film’s writers and production team.

In all of these cases, filming in a totally controlled environment in a single location, in front of any landscape that can be dreamed up by an artist, is a huge blessing to the film industry.

And in terms of sustainability, a virtual production with minimal physical assets and international travel will always be the more environmentally-friendly option, helping to cut down on a movie’s carbon footprint.

The cons

So those are the many pros, but what about the downside?

Well, virtual production isn’t cheap. There are only a few places around the world with the kinds of technology needed to make films this way, although that number is growing. On balance virtual production is cheaper in most cases, but it’s still not a low budget option.

Each virtual setting must be designed, filmed with specialist equipment, and there’s still the issue of gathering the cast and crew to the same location to do it.

If the nearest available virtual production facility happens to be overseas, travel will still be an expense (and an environmental impact) to consider. Then there’s the creative impact.

Actors who aren’t immersed in their surroundings report finding it more difficult to get into character, without the usual visual cues to respond to. For a very good actor, this may not be noticeable on screen, but it certainly poses a creative challenge in which they need to use their imaginations much more. And finally there’s the upsetting of the economic ecosystem that surrounds on-location productions.

There is an entire invisible industry which exists to support film production, including everything from location scouting to accommodation, catering, driving, concierge services, health and safety and more, often employing local people and companies in each filming location.

On top of that, film locations play a large part in the tourism sector, bringing real world destinations to the attention of the public who may want to visit them either for their movie credentials or for their beauty alone.

Without these visiting productions, there is a knock-on effect which removes funding and publicity from locations around the world which would otherwise benefit.