The actualities of virtual production
There are misconceptions about the realities of working with unreality – Stephen Barnes, our Founding Partner and Creative Director outlines the pros and cons of VP.
Stephen Barnes
Founding Partner

While virtual production is becoming a very real opportunity for an increasing number of production companies, agencies and clients, there is still one major issue tripping people up – not knowing when or how to use it to its full potential. And, to be honest, most people are getting it wrong.

What is often missed is that the real benefit of virtual production comes when you need to do something that you physically cannot do in the real world. Say, if you need to fly. Or film off-planet.

But it doesn’t just need to be fantastical. VP also works really well with more mundane Earth-bound matters. Say for shooting out of season.

When we created our campaign for National Energy Action, it was the height of Winter, but we needed a woodland scene in Autumn. And as the client was a charity, we certainly didn’t have the budget to travel to where it was Autumn. Or back in time three months. But it didn’t matter – we had something better than a time machine. Virtual production changed the season for us.

If you want to shoot in multiple locations in multiple territories but don’t have the budget to fly you and your team to five different continents in a week, then VP can revolutionise  your shoot, your production schedule and, therefore, your budget.

Whilst VP can be used for any standard shoot requirements, producers should still use the right tool for the right job. Taking a traditional production into a studio when it could easily be shot outside kind of misses the point. Borrowing from the classic movie Jurassic Park, we need to stop being so preoccupied with whether or not we could – and spend more time focussing on if we should.

For me, as a creative of more than 20 years, one of the most exciting reasons to work in VP is that your imagination is the only limitation to what you can create.

Once you have your amazingly massive idea and it’s up on that amazingly massive screen, you can art direct and play and improve all in real-time.


You can just take the handbrake off and do – virtually – anything. And once you have your amazingly massive idea and it’s up on that amazingly massive screen, you can art direct and play and improve all in real-time. It’s much easier for the director to make creative decisions there and then.

We like to call it creativity at the speed of thought.

Also, when you have built your virtual world, you can keep it and build on it, expand it, and use it again and again. You don’t have to dismantle a set and scrap it as you do on normal shoots. Saving money and the environment.

Sustainability is obviously another brilliant pro for VP. There are no storage needs, a reduced need for travel to locations for shoots and the ability to
re-use virtual sets and environments.

But they are the obvious ones – as you spend more time working with it, you’ll notice more and more pro’s pop up. Such as health and safety issues. For example shooting in airports. Getting a production team flight side is an organisational nightmare in real life, but everyone has a VIP pass in VP.

However, so I don’t sound like a complete evangelist, there are some cons.

The biggest struggle we have found is the idea of changing workflow. It’s a mindset and culture change that sometimes comes with resistance. While you can edit on the go and remove the need for “fix it in post” thinking, this takes a lot of planning on the front end. The process needs to start  weeks/months earlier than it usually would.

The up-front costs are also a barrier to entry sometimes. Renting an LED wall (which is the key component for virtual production) can be expensive, so might not be great for smaller shoots. And if your client doesn’t already get the long-term benefits, they can be scared off by the short-term costs.

And if you do get the cash and the green light, there is no guarantee you will be able to find a wall to rent. The studios that have them are few and far between and often booked up well in advance. And, in the UK, are usually based only in London.

Then, even if you get a stage, you’ll work hard to find the talent. There is a real dearth. When you think about the amount of DP and set builders you need for traditional shooting, you still need these, but there is a limit to the amount of people who are skilled up in VP.

But I never like to end on a down note. For the creatives among us virtual production is a beautiful blessing when used correctly and at the right time.

This article was first published on Shots.