Thanks to a rather forceful nudge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the film and television industry has started to embrace virtual production, with many realizing that this innovative filmmaking technique is the key to reducing emissions and slashing the industry’s growing carbon footprint.
What is Virtual Production?
Having been thrown into the limelight with recent marque productions, including The Lion King (2019) and The Mandalorian (2019), virtual production is actually a rather straightforward practice. A real-time virtual rendered environment created using a game engine is displayed on a huge LED screen surrounded by physical props and actors. As the camera moves around the scene, the virtual environment on the LED screen moves and shifts perspective accurately, using advanced gaming-engine processes to flawlessly navigate the digital landscape.
Virtual production has been around for a number of years and was being utilised and praised for its handsome benefits. Notably, the ability for large teams to collaborate from multiple locations in real-time, the almost endless assortment of ultra-realistic and customizable environments, and the cost-effectiveness. Now, however, it is gaining acclaim and deserved recognition for its ability to help productions and studios achieve their sustainable goals.
The Industry’s Carbon Footprint
While we will probably never see a day where everything is entirely filmed with virtual production, this technique will be crucial to reducing emissions from production and ultimately making a dent in the film, television and advertising industry’s horrendous carbon footprint.
Statistics show that big-budget films with production costs in excess of $70 million produce 2,840 tonnes of CO2 on average, which is equivalent to the annual energy usage of 342 homes. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where this energy consumption is coming from. Transporting hundreds, if not thousands, of cast and crew around the world for months at a time while building sets and powering a lot of equipment will rack up the CO2 emissions in no time.
It’s clear that the industry needs to take immediate and significant steps to tackle its carbon footprint. Thankfully, there is strong evidence that a shift towards sustainable production practices is well underway with virtual production at the helm.
How Exactly is Virtual Production Improving Sustainability?
An array of logistical benefits are presented with virtual production that goes beyond that of filming on a regular sound stage. Moreover, these logistical and environmental benefits conveniently coincide with the many creative advantages offered by virtual production techniques.
Utilising a virtual, rendered environment requires less crew, and thus, less transport and resources. Similarly, there is less need for human extras and physical props as they can be created in the virtual environment. Being able to instantly reset the scene and view the rendered combination of real and virtual elements right then and there, means that scenes can be completed quicker with less need for reshoots.
One of the most notable differences of Virtual production in comparison to traditional location or studio shoots is the enhanced streamlined pipeline. This significantly reduces timeframes for project deliveries and therefore ensures welcome cuts in costs and carbon usage. For example, shoot day is now just that, we are able to arrive on set knowing the time slot allocated to shoot in, with no re-arrangements required for adverse weather conditions or incorrect lighting. When cameras roll, we already have lighting and final output fully visualised, signed off and good to go. It has also been a delight to remove that awful final stage of dismantling and discarding of the physical set itself, safe in the knowledge that the digital scene and its exact lighting can be revisited at any time. For film-makers it really is a breath of fresh air to experience spare time at the end of shoot day rather than those inevitable over-time hours!
One of the industry’s biggest players, Netflix, has recently vowed to make significant changes to its production practices in the name of a sustainable future, opting to utilize virtual production and scrap diesel generators from its sets. This comes after it was found that the majority of their emissions came from producing content rather than their data centres.
The UK’s first carbon-neutral film has been produced at a virtual production facility in London, named ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’. The short utilized the full capacity of the virtual production facility to show the sustainable benefits of this practice and to encourage others to take note.
How to Make Your Next Production More Sustainable
If you’re searching for guidance on how to reduce your production’s carbon footprint, a newly formed company, AdGreen, is providing valuable support and guidance to eliminate the negative environmental impacts caused by the production industry. They have excellent carbon calculation tools, information on how to achieve zero waste, net-zero productions and much more.
If you think virtual production could improve the sustainability of your next production, why not utilise our brand new XR & Virtual Production Studio based in Manchester, England?
To learn more about our industry-leading virtual production studio in the North of England, contact us here: