February 22, 2024

Extended Reality vs Virtual Production – Distinguishing Future Technologies

A Comprehensive Look at XR and Virtual Production – Key Things to Know

In the last couple of decades, we constantly witnessed how the world has taken broad steps toward revolutionary changes and digital transformations. And, it will take just a second before we realize that everything around us is not the same anymore. Communication, jobs, movie production, education, and even basic fields of our lives will be shaped into different patterns and forms. And the central role of all these changes belongs to the concepts of extended reality and virtual production along with VR and AR.

XR is the umbrella term that unifies all interactions and environments related to virtual and real elements. Meanwhile, virtual production is all about blending traditional technologies with digital innovations that influence real-time game engines.

However, even though extended reality and virtual production typically encompass mixed reality (MR), AR (augmented reality), and VR (virtual reality), they have more specific roles when used in relation to broadcast and movie production. In this article, we will take a detailed look at all the ins and outs of these concepts and explore how and where they differ from each other. So, get comfortable and let's begin our journey.

What is XR – A Brief Overview

So, what exactly is XR? In simple words, extended reality is a collective expression that is used to refer to immersive technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. To have a clearer understanding of what all of them convey and how they work, let's discuss each of these components separately.

  • Virtual Reality: As you can easily guess from the name itself, virtual reality is a not-real, computer-generated world that brings people into a virtual environment through a set of VR headsets. Once wearing it, you will transport yourself into a real-like world and be immersed in a simulated environment. Today, modern VR technologies and tools push all boundaries and make virtual environments look and behave more naturally than our ordinary world. They also add support for extra senses like smell, sound, and touch. Virtual reality can serve for various purposes. For example, designers and artists can review building projects prior to construction to finalize all details. Or players can become fully immersed in a video game and interact with other gamers in real time.
  • Mixed Reality: The next term related to extended reality is mixed reality. It is a seamless integration of rendered graphics and the real world in which people can directly interact with the physical and digital worlds together. Within mixed reality, virtual and real objects blend, and they are even introduced together in one display. Typically, you can find two types of mixed reality. The first one mixes virtual objects into the real world. The best example can be when a person sees the real environment via cameras in a VR headset with virtual objects blended into the view. The second type is the opposite – it mixes real-world objects into a virtual world. For instance, a camera view of a virtual reality participant blended into the virtual environment.
  • Augmented Reality: The last component of XR is AR. In contrast to VR, Augmented reality is all about a rendered image on the surface of the real world. You can see AR graphics through tablets, smartphones and other devices, which makes the whole experience more interactive. Pokémon GO is a popular mobile game that perfectly showcases the use of augmented reality. Precisely, it shows computer-rendered monsters on sidewalks and lawns as gamers roam their neighborhoods. For example, AR can greatly improve the process of navigating directions. Instead of using a 2D map, a windshield can give directions over your view of the road and direct the driver with the help of special simulated arrows.

In a nutshell, all these technologies have the power to extend reality by either simulating or adding to the real world with the help of digital materials. Also, based on the data provided by Fortune Business Insights, the market size of extended reality is estimated to increase from $131.4 billion in 2023 to $1,134 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 36%.

What is Virtual Production – A Brief Overview

We have already discussed the concept of XR, so it's time to dive deeper into the essence of virtual production, which particularly took off during COVID-19.

Virtual production refers to a special filmmaking method that unifies physical and virtual to create movies. But how does it work? Well, you may be familiar with the green screen – a tool that is normally used in the shot background to allow editors to easily change or add extra visual effects in the post-production phase. So, in the case of virtual production, a massive LED screen comes to replace the green screen. LED screens have high resolution, which makes any images or videos on them super-realistic.

For example, let's suppose the giant LED screen displays an image of a forest. Thus, when a camera captures footage of this screen, it seems like an actual forest was captured on video. In simple words, when cameras combine with a precision motion tracking system, they are able to move in and around the virtual world, with real and figural elements locked and merged together, giving the combined illusion.

The most notable thing about virtual production is that editors no longer need to add visual effects only in post-production. Now, they can work on all changes and additions throughout pre-production in real-time. So, instead of “fix it in the post”, now we have “fix it in pre”.

VP covers several stages. These include:

  • Pre-production (previs) – This involves concept art, storyboards, animations, and other aspects that help to plan out the movie.
  • Technical aspects of previs (techvis) – A technical artist handles such aspects as shot locations, camera placements, CGI shots, and green screen measurements.
  • Post-production (postvis) – In this stage, temporary visual effects will be merged with live-action scenes to act as a placeholder for the final cut.

Also, in order to create a film in extended reality and access virtual production technologies, you will need a special game engine like the Unreal Engine. As for LED Volumes, filmmakers and Virtual Production studios can consider XR Stage, which is known as one of the largest suppliers in the field.

Core Benefits of Virtual Production

Virtual Production is not only about connecting virtually or creating hyper-realistic films with advanced technologies and LED volumes. It has many other benefits that enable studios to innovate more and bring high-quality results even in the pre-visualization phase. Below, we have highlighted some of the key advantages, let's have a look.

  • Cost and Time Savings: Virtual production is a great time-saving and cost-cutting option for most studios. First of all, now people have the opportunity to create virtual versions of proposed sets. This leads to less rework and cleaner takes, which greatly eliminates additional expenses and travel time. Moreover, in the case of green screens, there is a need for chroma key compositing and color spill, which naturally increases the time spent in post-production. But, when using LED screens, neither of them is required, which means the time needed in post-production will be significantly reduced.
  • Idea Iteration and Real-Time Edits: Virtual production empowers creatives and art teams to develop their vision earlier. In particular, it gives room for exploration by visualizing environments and shots before any of the actors or artists enter the set. Iterations on their vision help movie companies to bring people together and integrate the art department to create something unique and out of the world. In addition, with immersive production, hosts, producers, and editors can adapt their performances or make alterations live on set in real time without the need to wait for the post-production phase.
  • Environment Friendly: Next, there is the aspect of eco-friendliness. As we mentioned above, reducing the number of places and locations needed for film production with the help of LED volumes can help to cut expenses. This same point, however, also has some great environmental benefits. For example, in the case of a pandemic like it was during COVID-19, the use of a virtual environment helps to keep all cast members and crew safe and sound. They can easily operate remotely and plan everything online without real meetings.

Apart from these, virtual production also opens doors for endless creativity. For example, VFX artists can easily remove the sun or change the sunset glow during the filming. If the building on the horizon is not as big as it was planned, they can manipulate it to look bigger, and so on.

History and Development

Even though the concept of virtual production started to take revs not long ago, it is not a completely new idea. Some aspects and elements of the history of virtual production trace back to the times of traditional rear screen projection, which was primarily used in the movie industry from 1930 to 1960. The rear screen projection worked the following way – an actor stands in front of a screen while the projector behind it casts a reversed picture of the background. This method enabled film directors to shoot scenes of people driving while being on a static set. However, this technology also had a big disadvantage. Since everything on the set had to be static, the camera couldn't move so as not to ruin the illusion. This, in return, hugely restricted the capabilities of rear screen projection.

Coming to more recent times, Virtual Production started to be used in a number of various ways and integrated a diversity of technological innovations. For example, in 2019, when filming the live-action remake of The Lion King, Jon Favreau used multiple components of Virtual Production. He and his team would wear virtual reality headsets to be able to transport to the virtual world. This enabled them to better plan camera angles and the overall content, as they could see the animated environments in front of them.

This was also used for Avatar in 2009 by James Cameron. Through a screen showing the animated space, he was able to watch this at the same time as actors who were performing live in real-time in front of him. As such, he got a full overview of how all the details and scenes would look in the post.

And nowadays, almost every leading TV production company has a special previz team that plans all the scenes and shots for expensive projects like His Dark Materials or Game of Thrones in advance.

To Sum Up

In the last few years, a wave of new tools and ideas in the extended reality field has been increasingly changing the process of storymaking across film and entertainment industries. The appearance of XR studios, VR-driven games, and movies mixing reality and virtual environments are only a part of all innovations.

When it comes to the future of virtual production and XR, experts suggest that with new improvements and hybrid events in this industry, the adoption of XR across a range of sectors will reach massive heights. For example, the integration of more comfortable and smaller devices combined with connectivity and developments in software apps will massively contribute to the adoption.

Moreover, using virtual production in movie creation will expand possibilities for teams in entertainment and media and save them tons of time and funds on post-production. For that reason, these concepts and technologies have the potential to stay way too long in the future.

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