Christchurch talent shines through film production revolution

Popularised through Disney’s The Mandalorian and James Mangold’s Ford vs Ferrari, Virtual Screen Production (VSP) technology was more recently used in the production of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder.

The result of a unique and innovative combination of technologies, the endless possibilities made possible through VSP is generating global excitement within the digital screen industries.

Using a curved wall comprised of hundreds of LED panels, VSP allows actors to perform and interact with their surroundings as they would if they were on location.

The high-definition wall uses real-time game engines, like the Unreal Engine, to generate and render the 3D environments for the background, which also generates environmental light for the physical set.

The technology sparked the interest of three Christchurch-based creative organisations, including production company Resonate, game development studio CerebralFix Ltd. and event technology providers Pixel, who saw the opportunity for an exciting collaboration into the possibilities of VSP in the Canterbury region, while tapping into an abundant pool of local talent and technology.

The result? Two short films showcasing how virtual production can accommodate unique commercial and artistic visions; Adversity and Co. is an advertising agency satire that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the tribulations agencies go through when balancing tight budgets and champagne expectations, while the second film [in post-production] is a dystopian love story.

Using VSP enabled the team to shoot in Auckland, Fiji, Antarctica, the red desert of Mars and Aoraki Mt Cook, without once leaving the studio.

Watch Adversity & Co. here>

Based on an initial concept from Resonate Creative Director, Simon Waterhouse, the project came to  life through the talents of Pixel, who configured the vast LED screens required to make a virtual backdrop, and the 3D artists and Unreal Engine developers of CerebralFix Ltd, who spent more than a year building the real-time, responsive 3D locations and fine-tuning the motion-tracking system.

With the balance of film production and game development expertise, the pilot is a perfect example of how global digital screen industries are becoming increasingly converged.

This is just one of the reasons why the University of Canterbury jumped at the chance to partner on the project, hosting the production on the site of what will become its ground-breaking Digital Screen Campus (DSC).

“We know good things happen when industry and education come together, so when we were approached about collaborating on this project and contributing a vital funding stream to ensure it could proceed, we couldn’t say no,” says Petra Westropp, Project Manager of the DSC Innovation Hub.

The project was the first recipient of the Screen CanterburyNZ Production Grant, which was established to incentivise screen productions to locate themselves in the Canterbury region.

“It was really important to us at Screen CanterburyNZ to support local business, but also encourage innovation and forge a path ahead in the digital production capabilities of the local film industry,” explains Screen CanterburyNZ Manager, Petrina D’Rozario.

“It’s a great sign of the incredible talent that resides here in Christchurch and New Zealand. “

While the disruption of virtual production will be far reaching for the international film industry this project was a huge undertaking with an uncertain outcome, but one well worth the commitment, Waterhouse explains.

“Personally, I’m incredibly proud of what our grass-roots collaboration has achieved. No single party could have achieved this goal by themselves, so to have five different organisations come together to pursue a common goal shows the power of collaborative ventures.”