How to write a script for virtual production
I wanted to write a post about something very close to my heart. Writing. As we all ramp up our on-set tech and some of you are now well and truly cracking open tins of UE4 woop-ass, I want us to think about how virtual production will be adopted by writers and change the art of script writing.
I have now clocked up hundreds of hours shooting on professional virtual production sets, and on my way I have written over 15 screen-plays, I even had a fiction novel Vampire of Highgate published alongside Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. What I am trying to prove to you is, I may be known for being as dyslexic as a badger, as the techno DP and for building crazy powerful VP systems, but I also really know my apples when it comes to writing. So will you please join me as I take a look at how the craft of screenwriting for virtual production may pan out.
How to write a script for virtual production
You can set your story anywhere in time or space.
The first thing is, with virtual production we can be virtually anywhere, both in time and in space so this gives writers an insane amount of freedom. It’s no more expensive to soot in the future on Mars than it is to shoot a contemporary scene in New York back ally. In fact, in virtual production terms, fantastic locations are in fact easier to pull off in-engine in real-time.
Reality in virtual production is what costs. Just take a look at digital humans. Most digital doubles in virtual production are quite frankly comical, to do a digital human justice it still takes a massive amount of pollies and human skills in post. Reality in virtual production is expensive, you have to either shoot lots of references using photogrammetry or even laser scanning, then you gotta model and texture and light and rig and, oh it goes on.
Or you can download a Mars scene of the Unreal Market, download a charter in to iClone, jump in your Rokoko mo-cap suit and get going in under, say 4 hours. Fantasy scripts, funny ideas, amazing dialogue, and out there locations all win as of the virtual production landscape today. In time as assets stores become better stocked with more Quixel grade assets, but as 2020 the wacky and fantastic is cheaper to pull off, realistic is shall we say a little more challenging.
But if you got the budget, hell, who am I to say what can and can not be done, just look at the big budget virtual productions from Disney – insane good (Jungle book, Mandalorian) but maybe not the best written? (discuss). Also the really good thing about VP is, you won’t even notice it 99.9% of the time. There are absolutely loads of TV shows, films and series that have at least virtually produced scenes in them. All I am saying is, if you want to make something with your mates, low budget, think like a crazy person and you’ll have abetter chance of pulling something off.
Then let’s look at cast. Sure writing a sprawling crowd scene for virtual production is going to be a challenge to pull off, unless you have a 140 foot Mandalorian style LED stage and they cost about $12,000,000 to build.
But if you do have the multi-zillion budgets, you can pull a well costumed crowd into your LED set and fill your cinematic boots. Otherwise (as part of the point of VP is that it at least at some level is mass democratized) you will not have the big-Z budgets and are going to be writing for your main actors surrounded by out of focus digitally animated extras, digital sets, if you’r lucky, projected on an a 16m x 16m LED. Or maybe your script will be produced using green screen mixed reality, I’ll come on to this.
If a film is all about place and action, writing for virtual production should be no different, we just need to think about some of the technology that may be used to make the film. Now I can hear a lot of great writers out there turning their noses up and saying “But Bailey, you should never put technology before story or drama, my dear” and in a way they are right, but what I am saying is, by understanding the technology, it’s limitations, writers can at least lean-in to the positives of virtual production. Think about what the technologies can do.
Writing scripts for green screen mixed reality productions.
Writing for green screen productions is a tricky one if your producers want to make the film using real-time compositing. Fur costumes, not a great idea, fast action, also tricky. I have show over 400 hours on a mixed reality set and in my option and in my experience “steady as she goes” is a good rule of thumb when writing for green screen mixed reality shooting. That is as far as the tech goes today. Maybe tomorrow it will be different and better, but live compositing does not like fast action, furry stuff or anything that will create blur. If you do shoot any of these on a green set, your real-time compositing will be good for slap-comps in post. They will save your post team a lot of time, but you will not be getting final pixel recording.
Think of the best script for virtual production.
“If it was me writing a new script for virtual production studios, I’d think about great films that could have been made using real-time virtual production technology – Gravity!” Asa Bailey CEO of On-Set Facilities It would make the perfect VP script, two actors a tin can and a set thats so fantastic it does not have to be judged for it’s realism. No crowd scenes, no chase scenes, not even that many wide shots with the actors in them. Yet it is an AMAZING film.
So on to my round up for now…
The new golden age of Whatever TF screen or device your on
Writing scenes for virtual production – my advise for now at least, would be to think in production terms as if you are writing for the old Hollywood studios of the 30’s and 40’s. When big studio sets where used with painted backdrops that could be anywhere. Imagine your characters, where are they, what might the staging be, what might a Director do with your scene, how can you help to write for the technologies that may be used. What if your actors are even in different locations, for we are in funny times where it’s now possible for actors to be shot at home and projected into a scene remotely. Write tight, write compact, and then go big with fully digital VFX scenes that can now be rendered in real-time.
So this is a bit of an appeal.
Dear writers, please don’t freak out when you’re asked to write for a virtual studio production. Download yourself some great old movies and just watch how they did it back in the day. Then lose your mind and get fantastic. You never know, we may be entering a renaissance of truly great storytelling.