VR is disrupting film production

/ August 28, 2019

VR is disrupting film production - When will other creative industries take notice?

When John Favreau was tasked with remaking the Lion King, he didn’t want to use the same production process as he used for The Jungle Book three years earlier. Changes in the production of animated films from the original 1994 Lion King – the best performing animated film of all time – to the Jungle Book and now the new Lion King witnessed the move from 2D to 3D and finally VR.

Avatar brought technology and virtual reality to film production in a new way, offering motion capture to bridge the gap between live action and CGI. Later down the line, Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story leveraged VR to plan out shots such as the virtual train scene in Solo. In John Wick 3, Alex Nice designed the entire “glass house” set in Unreal for use with VR. By allowing actors and choreographers to work and even fight directly in VR, it allowed the production team to perfect the exact final set when they physically built it. 


While all of these previous cases showed the promise and power of VR, Favreau saw the trend and took the final leap, making the Lion King the first movie filmed entirely in VR. 

Using a large warehouse in Playa Vista, Favreau and team recreated the sweeping plains and scenery of Pride Rock – complete with a pantheon of digital animals – entirely in VR. Collaborating with Magnopus, a VR production company, Favreau and crew employed a sort of “filmmaking game” to combine Steadicams and other filmmaking equipment with the virtual environment of Pride Rock. Each shot was then filmed in VR, with the crew navigating using headsets in combination with the physical equipment, allowing the team to visualize and film scenes without having to even sniff a real warthog. Had they actually shot the film in Africa and then add the CGI afterwards, it would have added a year to the production timeline, Favreau admits.   

How much the VR production techniques developed by James Cameron (Avatar), Alex Nice (John Wick 3), Lucasfilm (Solo), and now Favreau and Magnopus will change future production remains to be seen, but early returns are promising. VR promises the increased ability to stage and shoot films in increasingly imaginative and fantastic environments – all while reducing production costs. VR is proving to be a disruptive technology for cinema pipelines and may prove to be too efficient to avoid in the coming years. But as disruptive as it is becoming for the film industry, other industries like games and VFX are still largely sticking with traditional means of production – even as they produce content for VR itself.

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