The Director of Virtual Production (DVP) role explained
Over the past few years Cinematographer and DOP Asa Bailey has been working on-set as a Director of Virtual Production in Unreal Engine. In this article Asa explains more about the his role and his responsibilities working with Producers and Directors. For those who haven’t encountered the DVP role before it’s a technical / creative DOP that specialises in virtual production methods (virtual cinematography, dynamic lighting, realtime previsualisation, animation and VFX).
What does the Director of Virtual Production role entail?
Well, other than making cups of tea and coffee for everyone or fetching a banana, I am ultimately responsible for the smooth operation of all the virtual production systems and the technical crew on-set. I am also responsible in pre-production for delivering all the realtime assets to set and making sure they are the best quality possible for the needs of the production.
On the prep days before a shoot I also get involved with the DOP and with lighting and rigging as they all integrate with my virtual production systems, but as the DVP it’s the smooth running of the virtual production systems that I am ultimately responsible for. These systems can include virtual camera trackers, motion capture rigs, realtime rendering systems, chroma hardware the list goes on and on, but basically on-set I am responsible for all the bits that come together to make up a full virtual production system.
What did you do before being a DVP?
I started out as a graphic and web designer then I moved into interactive research and UI design. I could see then that film was going to become a digital process and so in 2003 I bought my first camera and started shooting. By 2013 I was working around the world as a Commercials Director and I directed my first feature film, but I’d always have one eye on technical developments in games, broadcast and interactive production. I’ve always shoot a lot of VFX and lighting in realtime in camera. It was a couple of years ago that I decided to become a Director of Virtual Production and concentrate of helping others to shoot in realtime.
Overseeing the VP System
A virtual production system can include many components and it’s my job to make sure that they all talk to each other and work on the day. I work with my crew that includes computer engineers, camera operators, motion-capture engineers, chromakey hardware operators, 3D encoding engineers, motion control and robotics programmers, with various integrated systems it takes a wide base of skills to tie things all together. Then in some cases we have live grading and realtime VFX and animations all running on-set, all in realtime. Flying the system at the helm are my own system pilots who import assets, calibrate the engine, swop lenses and laid up sets and scenes.
As a DVP I have to be a jack of all trades as the systems are so dispersed I rely on experts in each specific area such as motion control, data management or IP networking. I know the pressures of running a set and that there are no second chances, system reliability and crew productivity drive all the decisions I make.
Working in Pre-Production
During pre-production I assist the Director to understand and make decisions about virtual production shooting methods and I work in pre-production with the Production Designer and VFX teams to ensure that all assets such as props, costumes, virtual sets and animations, FX, and characters all arrive on set in the best way possible for the intended virtual production. I also work with the DOP and Gaffer to talk and propose lighting for virtual sets.
Working with VFX Vendors
Sometimes we are shooting for previsualisation, other times we are shooting for live VFX and compositing in realtime or even going out to live broadcast. It’s these variables that determine the level of detail and quality required of the assets we’ll bring to set. Sometimes you can be using grey 3D geometry to give actors and directors a sense of space, other times we are running final pixel quality CGI animations over photorealistic mixed reality environments to shoot final shots. It’s my job to work with the VFX Supervisors and VFX team to make sure all these assets are ready to run in realtime on-set.
Brining Assets into the Engine
On my sets, everything happens in Unreal Engine and I oversee the process of transferring CGI and 3D assets into the engine for realtime rendering on-set. In prep I work with artists to bake assets in say Octane and V-Ray and convert them into the engine for realtime rendering on-set, I’ll also ensure that we have everything recording properly so that we can leave the sets with all our assets ready to be passed down the pipeline.
Developing Products for the Industry On-Set
Working on set has also been vital in developing virtual production systems with Producers and industry partners. I am currently working with companies such as Quixel and the Unreal Engine Enterprise Team to test and develop new virtual production features in their products. My sets are also a testing ground for hardware manufacturers like Mo-Sys who I work closely with to push their camera tracking and 3D encoding technologies.
I also design virtual production workstations, PC computers that are optimised and built for realtime rendering in Unreal Engine. I’ve developed the capture dome a mobile and modular structure for photogrammetry, motion and volumetric capture, and through Realtime Pipeline my company OSF assists VFX companies, production companies and agencies to adopt virtual production methods in-house.
I love working with Producers VFX Supervisors and Director to bring their vision to life in realtime on-set. I honestly think I have the best job in the world, I get to be creative, work with amazing technology and people and on a really good day I get to play with robots.
You can check out Asa’s availability and work here.