21 Feb 2022

Film's digital screen revolution

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 21 February 2022
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Behind the scenes on a virtual production stage Photo: Supplied / CerebralFix

Green screen technology opened a vast array of possibilities for visual effects in the film industry, but now there's a new kid in town - virtual production.

And it looks like it's here to stay with potentially far reaching consequences. Big blockbuster productions have already been venturing into the world of digital screens.

One of the first was Disney's The Mandalorian. But Marvel's yet-to-be released Thor Love and Thunder, directed by Taika Waititi, and DC's The Batman also use them.

Netflix period series 1899 was meant to be shot in a number of different locations but because of the pandemic, opted to use virtual production as well.

Here in New Zealand, the University of Canterbury announced last month it was spending $97 million on a new digital screen campus that would be built on 14 hectares of its own redeveloped land.

Today The Detail's Jessie Chiang looks at how digital screens are shaking up our film industry.

The programme director for the new campus, Andy Phelps, explains what digital screens actually are and why they're so revolutionary.

"The idea is that you've either filmed a location or you've got a virtual creation...and you build a ring of screens and then you film your action and your actors in front of those screens [with what you've already filmed]," he says.

"You can render CGI directly into that, control the angles that we're looking at, move the scenery either with the actor or against the actor.

"We're at the very beginning of what can be done with these kinds of things and eventually we may get into filming a scene with two actors who are not actually in the same place."

The new university campus, which could take till 2025 to be fully built, will also have a strong commercial focus - making it the first of its kind in Australasia.

It will have sound, recording and colour correction studios, game development labs, editing suites, a theatre and of course digital screens.

Simon Waterhouse is the managing director of Resonate, a Christchurch-based film production company that's quickly realised the power of virtual production.

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Photo: Supplied

"It's going to completely change the way we make films for better or worse," he says.

"People kind of think of virtual production as a visual effects workflow...a replacement for green screen but actually it can be a substitute for an entire location shoot."

And that could have a massive impact on the New Zealand film industry.

"We've got an iconic landscape that's appeared in dozens and dozens of amazing films and that's been what's brought productions to New Zealand," says Waterhouse.

"So how is New Zealand going to adapt its film industry to compete when real locations are suddenly no longer in demand?"

Waterhouse explores the implications of the new technology and how it will fit with traditional film practices.

"A lot of people have been talking about the technology and what it can do but not actually how it's going to disrupt the film industry," he says.


PIJF Photo: .