Green Shots: Sustainable film production

According to a joint report from BFI and ARUP, the average high-budget film production generates 2,840 tonnes of CO2 – that’s roughly the same amount absorbed by 3,709 square acres of forest over the course of a year. And to many, such a high figure won’t come as a surprise; film productions are complex operations, spanning numerous geographical locations and relying on energy-sapping specialist equipment and processes. 

Our industry is, however, aware of the need to change. The movement for sustainable film production is picking up pace, and has been given an unexpected boost by the coronavirus pandemic. Production teams are looking to cut both their emissions and costs, whilst ensuring that they continue to innovate and keep their members safe. Here are the main ways that they’re doing so. 

Virtual Production 

Virtual Production (VP) can be defined as the integration of real and virtual production elements on a live set. The combination of camera tracking technology with powerful graphics engines has made it possible to film scenes in photorealistic virtual environments with effects in realtime. Aside from providing producers with unparalleled creative opportunities, VP is considered a sustainable film production technique for the following reasons: 

  • Reduced travel – Around 16% of a film’s carbon emissions derive from international travel, and a further 4% for accommodation. Respectively, this equates to 75 return flights from London to New York, and the average annual electricity consumption of 34 homes. VP reduces this by removing the need to travel to several locations to shoot. Whether using green screens or LED walls, it does this by virtually rendering different locations on a single set. 
  • Reduced use of (physical) props and materials – Computer-generated sets and props significantly reduce material waste. Industry expert, Richard James, even predicts the use of ‘digital prop libraries’ which are already commonplace in the gaming industry. 

Sustainable sets 

Where physical sets do need to be built, sustainable design principles should be followed. ‘Design for deconstruction’ and ‘parametric design’, for instance, are ideas which may allow film productions to reduce the environmental impact of their physical sets. The Australian-made ‘X-frame’, for example, is a highly flexible construction option which could be re-used across multiple sets with minimal material waste. 

Another option to make sets more sustainable is to re-use materials. In its production of ‘Spider Man 2’ (2014), Sony Pictures managed to divert 52% of its set waste (lumber, steel, and glass) away from landfills and towards future projects. As a result, they saved approximately $400,000 in costs and earned a carbon neutral certification. 

Renewable energy 

As it currently stands, many studios rely on costly, inefficient diesel generators to power studios (the average production, in fact, uses enough of the fuel to fill the tanks of 11,478 cars). Although production teams are rarely in control of the source of their power, they do hold sway with the studios that do. Solar photovoltaics and wind turbines are viable options for many, whilst switching to a sustainable energy provider is a simple, fast way to improve green credentials. 

Filmmaking is going through a green revolution. Catalysed by the coronavirus pandemic, film crews are relying more on VP and are paying closer attention to how they can streamline each stage of the production process. What’s emerging as a result is a leaner, greener, more cost-effective way of making films. 

Want to learn more about virtual production and the film industry? Take a look at articles from Mo-Sys Academy. We’re here to help educate and inform those looking to make their first steps into the world of filmmaking. 

Mo-Sys to demonstrate virtual studio technologies at BroadcastAsia 2020

Mo-Sys will be showcasing its award-winning StarTracker Studio at BroadcastAsia 2020’s all-new virtual reality experience running from September 29 to October 1 2020.

Having recently won a Virtual Best of Show Award during IBC 2020, Mo-Sys StarTracker Studio, the world’s first pre-configured virtual production system, brings moving camera virtual production within reach of all market sectors.

StarTracker from Mo-Sys is proven as the most precise and reliable camera tracking technology, using dots on the studio ceiling (“stars”) which are placed at random and tracked to plot camera positions with extraordinary accuracy.

StarTracker Studio combines StarTracker camera tracking with a powerful all-in-one virtual production system capable of working with green screen studios or LED volumes. The system uses Mo-Sys VP Pro software to connect camera tracking data from up to 16 cameras to the Unreal Engine graphics. StarTracker Studio uses a smart system design to reduce the typical hardware required for multi-camera virtual production, and the whole system comes pre-configured in a flight-cased rack.

“We’re looking forward to demonstrating the performance, flexibility and simplicity StarTracker Studio offers to companies who need to create virtual studio and augmented reality content,” said Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys.

Mo-Sys will also be detailing how its VP Pro and StarTracker technologies operate with LED volumes for virtual productions that want to use on-set finishing techniques.

“LED-wall technology now offers a viable alternative to the traditional green screen / post-production workflow for visual effects (VFX) shooting. Specifically, LED walls enable a composited shot to be captured on-set, rather than just previewed on-set, thereby removing the need for downstream post-production,” Geissler continued. “LED walls won’t replace green screen, both will co-exist going forwards as each is suited to a different type of VFX shot. The benefit of StarTracker Studio is that it handles both workflows”.

Register for the BCA Virtual Event and sign up for the live webinar on Tuesday 29th September 2020 at 3:30pm SGT / 8:30am BST: StarTracker Studio: Simplifying Virtual Studio Production.

Before and After: What is pre and post production?

Filmmaking is a complex process. From the very first conception of an idea right through to the final editing, a production goes through multiple stages before it eventually hits the screen. Actually shooting it is just one link in the chain – a lot of production work happens before the cameras start rolling and long after they stop. These before and after phases are called ‘pre-production’ and ‘post-production’, and are fundamental to the filmmaking process. 

What is pre-production? 

In the broadest sense, pre-production is everything that happens before shooting takes place, to ensure its smooth operation. A pre production checklist would include things like: 

  • Scripting 
  • Storyboarding 
  • Budgeting 
  • Location scouting 
  • Hiring equipment and crew 
  • Casting 

Pre (virtual) production 

Increasingly, this traditional pre production phase is being disrupted by virtual production (VP) methods. VP uses camera tracking technology and advanced graphics engines to create virtual, interactive objects and environments for the film and broadcast industry. The BBC, The Weather Channel, and Dutch-broadcaster NEP are just a few organisations to have utilised VP. 

Among the many benefits of this developing technology is that it reduces uncertainty for producers. During the pre production phase using VP, the smallest of details can be visualised and settled on; environments, settings, and initial effects can all be prepared at the pre-pro stage. This means that producers can start to iterate much earlier than with traditional production methods, saving time (and money) later on.

What is post production? 

Just as pre production is preparing for a shoot, post production is preparing for release. It’s the last phase of the production process and is focused around turning raw footage into the final product with editing and special effects. The post production process involves multiple departments, and generally includes the following: 

  • Picture editing (or ‘cutting) 
  • Sound editing, sound effects and mixing 
  • Visual effects 
  • Colour correction 
  • Animation

How long does post production editing take? 

Depending on the complexity of the production, the post production phase can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to complete. If significant edits have to be made due to mistakes or a change in creative direction, then this stage can take a lot longer. 

Virtual post production 

When VP methods are used, the post production phase is either shortened considerably or eliminated entirely. As mentioned, this is because there are far fewer surprises. Rather than wait weeks or months to watch back over footage, producers can view and edit shots in real time when in the studio. 

It’s worth mentioning, however, that the time required in post-production is largely dependent on which VP technologies and software are used. As a general rule, LED screens (such as those used by Italian post-production company, Neticks Group Evolution) tend to need almost no time in the post-production phase. This is because they provide a final composite on set in realtime, with natural-looking reflections and shadows, and don’t require colour corrections between the foreground and background. Whilst LED screens give producers the chance to shoot a near-final product on set, though, they only allow a limited degree of movement for actors. 

A more flexible VP option in this sense would be the green screen. Using camera tracking tech, actors can move around a pre-constructed virtual set, which the production team can view through a monitor. This VP option requires slightly more time in post production as lighting needs to be corrected, props removed, and effects added. 

Regardless of which VP technology is used, however, it’s likely to significantly reduce time in post production when compared to traditional production methods. In essence, VP shifts the production team’s mentality from ‘Let’s fix it in post’ to ‘Let’s deal with this now’.

Pre and post production remain core elements of the filmmaking process, but they’re changing. With an increasing use of VP technology, more emphasis is being placed on ‘front-loading’ productions; more accurate decisions and editing can take place earlier on, reducing the risk of guess-work whilst in the studio and stretched budgets in post production. In the future, final edits will be ready almost as soon as the cameras have stopped rolling for the day. 

Mo-Sys is the market leader in virtual production camera tracking technology for film and broadcast. Working with production teams across the world, we’ve helped to create engaging, immersive experiences that have reached large audiences. To learn more about the capabilities of virtual filmmaking, check out Mo-Sys Academy – our dedicated resource centre for emerging filmmaking professionals, and sign up to our newsletter.