Australia has become home to the world’s largest virtual production filmmaking facility, with the unveiling today of a 40-foot (12.19-metre) high, 6000-screen facility that its builder claims is double the size of its nearest rival.
“It comfortably breaks the current Guinness World Record,” says Gary Marshall, vice-president of virtual production for NantStudios, which has built and will manage the facility at Docklands Studios Melbourne. “It’s twice as big. It’s the world’s largest stage for virtual production that exists.”
(L-R) Matt Vitins, Caroline Pitcher and Gary Marshall at Dockland Studios.Credit:Luis Ascui
Virtual production has revolutionised film and television making in the few short years since The Mandalorian first introduced the concept.
At the heart of the new technology is what is known as the LED volume, a vast array of interconnected LED screens, connected to powerful computers and driven by gaming software, that allows pre-shot footage and digital “assets” to be integrated in the background while actors perform in the foreground.
“It’s the next generation of screen production,” says Matt Vitins, chief operating officer of Matchbox Pictures, who was a driving force in bringing the facility to Australia. “Not many other places can do it.”
Because the technology is so new, Australia was not at a competitive disadvantage in trying to grab a share of the action. And because Victoria has a thriving games industry and an established ability to support large-scale international TV productions such as Shantaram and Clickbait, Vitins says the opportunity and incentive to move quickly was great.
Nant has in fact built two volumes at Docklands, both of which integrate state-of-the-art articulated ceiling panels that allow for close to 360-degree filming.
The smaller facility is 10,000 square feet (the industry generally uses imperial measurements), which is a little larger than the one Industrial Light and Magic built for season one of The Mandalorian. The larger facility is 25,000 square feet, and incorporates a large water tank, allowing for seascape shots.
The smaller Stage Three is already operational, and can be configured to allow for multiple smaller productions, such as commercials, to film at once. The larger Stage One, which is expected to be operating by May, is aimed at attracting big-budget production, typically from Hollywood.
Sam Esmail’s $188 million series Metropolis, which is currently in pre-production, is expected to be the first to use it.
“This sort of infrastructure supports the highest level of television travelling anywhere around the world,” says Vitins, whose company is owned by Universal Studio Group and provides production services to international shows as well as driving its own slate of Australian content.
The larger of the two new spaces is the biggest such facility in the world.Credit:Luis Ascui
What makes virtual production so appealing to filmmakers is that it reduces the amount of time and money that needs to be dedicated to post-production visual effects, it allows actors to perform in real time in the filmed environment (as distinct from green-screen, where they have to imagine what will be there in the finished product), and it provides for the creation of photo-realistic worlds or exotic locations that might otherwise be impossible or too expensive to utilise.
Clayton Jacobson has pioneered the technology locally, building his own Dreamscreen facility in Epping. It was used for the ABC series Fires – the first Australian show to feature virtual production – and La Brea.
Caroline Pitcher, chief executive of VicScreen, which successfully lobbied the state government to support the new project with a $12.5 million contribution towards its $60 million cost, believes the technology is a potential game changer for the sort of productions that will be made in Australia.
“It’s enabling far more complexity in storytelling,” she says. “This breaks the boundaries that limit physical production, so it enables creatives to dream bigger and in a much more complex way.
“It enables writers to think bigger, better, in different ways. We can be any place in the world or the universe with this technology, and that’s what really excited us.”
Nant will have more than 20 permanent employees on site to run and service the technology.
“This is going to offer up innovative technical and creative jobs for Victorians for a really long period to come,” says Pitcher.
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