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“We’re Only Just Scratching the Surface of What Virtual Production Can Do”


Taylor James’ Jay Harwood and Stan Hebette tell LBB how their work with Rain-X is part of a virtual production-inspired revolution in the industry

“We’re Only Just Scratching the Surface of What Virtual Production Can Do”

In recent times we’ve witnessed a cascade of interest surrounding virtual production, a catch-all term used to describe a suite of technologies coming to prominence in the production industry. Perhaps one reason for that is, in response to the industry’s most modern challenges (a switch to remote work, and an ever-increasing demand for content to name two), virtual production capabilities can feel like a tailor-made solution. 

But have we really understood its full potential, and what is the limit of the value these emerging and evolving technologies can add to the production industry more broadly? Over the course of a recent project for the automotive care brand Rain-X, staff at the creative production studio Taylor James edged closer to finding answers to those questions. 

The Rain-X ad itself, which sees a car sweeping seamlessly past multiple backgrounds and encountering unique weather conditions within each, was brought to life using a mixture of virtual production techniques and Taylor James’ CG expertise. To find out how these new technologies had a transformative effect on the ad - and what that means for the industry at large - LBB sat down with ECD Jay Harwood and CG lead Stan Hebette… 

Above: The seamless environmental transitions of this ad for Rain-X were the result of the Taylor James team’s ingenuity with virtual production technologies. 

Right from the start of the project, recalls Stan, pre-viz proved to be a big help. “Part of our team put the city rain scene together in Unreal Engine, whilst the rest of the environments were made in Maya”, he recalls. “So pre-viz helped us to find the right camera angles and make things flow between Unreal and Maya”. 

Another challenge, however, came from the fact that the car itself was filmed on-set - and needed to work seamlessly with the CG backgrounds (all whilst each was moving at speed). 

“We ran so many tests looking at what 20 miles an hour would look like physically, what the difference would be between that and 30, and so on”, continues Stan. “And it’s not just how quickly the environments zoom past that you need to watch out for - there’s also the spring of the car and how that would affect the rain bouncing off it, and all of these seemingly minor details which are essential for realism”. 

But, as Jay explains, this was another instance where virtual production - in this case an LED wall - helped give the team a creative edge. “With the right LED coverage and the right camera angle, you can get so much ‘running’ footage of the car’s close-up details”, he says. “Right down to the bodylines and contours of the metal, we got it all in-camera in a controllable shooting environment”. 

Working with that LED wall, however, also provided the Taylor James team with a useful lesson for future projects. “The wall we were using was 15 by 4 meters”, says Stan. “But, because the car is so reflective, that actually posed a challenge - we needed to make sure the wall itself was the perfect distance away from the vehicle so that the reflection looked natural”. 

It’s a challenge that the industry may look to move beyond in the near future. “I’ve already seen, I believe in China, examples of enormous LED walls being used for precisely that kind of reason - ensuring that the objects in the foreground reflect only what’s on the wall and nothing beyond it”, notes Stan. 

As well as state-of-the-art virtual production, however, the team’s tried-and-tested VFX mastery was essential in bringing the project to life. “We combined traditional VFX workflows with the VP in-camera footage”, says Jay, “by integrating a CG road underneath the car and then adding extra VFX elements like rain to really sell it through”. 

The result is a smooth and seamless piece of film which puts the focus firmly on the product. Looking at the implications for the industry more widely, however, Jay sees plenty to get excited about. 

“Creatively I feel like we are just scratching the surface of what can be done. I personally would love to explore camera language within virtual production”, he says. “I also believe there’s huge potential for more designed pieces that can have visuals played out on the LED walls, as you can create a really dynamic edit - like you would traditionally but without waiting for all the designed VFX elements to come in later down the line”. 

In addition to that, both Jay and Stan believe that the true impact of the technology is yet to be fully realised. “We do need to remember that these technologies are only babies, in the grand scheme of things”, says Stan. “Because of shows like The Mandalorian we are all aware of it, but I don’t think we’ve truly reckoned with how much of an impact it will have on the amount of content we’re able to produce in tighter timeframes. It’s almost scary to imagine what can be done”. 

Elaborating on that point, Jay agrees that “volume production is a big attraction for using virtual production because you can use it once and then re-use and adapt that footage as an asset on future campaigns”, he says. “Interior spaces are a good example of this, as you could build a branded house that you simply tweak for different commercials. It will be a case of spending the money upfront and reaping the benefits with multi-day shoots spread over a longer timeline in the future”. 

As the industry faces up to a growing demand for more content across more channels which shows no signs of slowing down, it feels as though these technologies are arriving precisely at the right moment. Whatever the future may hold, it feels a fair bet that those who benefit the most from virtual production will be engaging with its technologies today. 

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Genres: Visual VFX

Categories: Tyres and vehicle utilities, Automotive

Taylor James, Wed, 07 Sep 2022 08:52:03 GMT