MELBOURNE LIGHTING THE WAY IN VIRTUAL PRODUCTION

The Liam Neeson thriller, Blacklight, recently filmed in Melbourne, is one of the productions that harnessed the many benefits this innovative technology offers.

Virtual production is considered to be the next wave of filmmaking and Melbourne, Australia’s tech and creative capital, is at the forefront of this innovation.

Victorian businesses are partnering with major productions to lead the way in this space, with the Liam Neeson thriller Blacklight, one of the productions that harnessed the many benefits this new technology offers while shooting complex action scenes in Melbourne in late 2020.

Dreamscreen is one of the Melbourne companies exploring what is possible in virtual production. Powered by Unreal Engine Technology, they are developing the system with globally renowned Melbourne VFX house Method Studios and are home to Melbourne’s largest LED Volume Studio.

Photos Dreamscreen Australia

 


In a recent interview, filmmaker and Dreamscreen founder Clayton Jacobson (Kenny) said he has been closely following virtual production technology since he watched his son move through the computer-generated environments in video games more than a decade ago, and that the future of filmmaking will forever be changed with this new technology.

"It's like the introduction of sound, of colour, of digital. It's the next step forward, the next wave of filmmaking," Clayton told Fairfax Media.

On Blacklight, writer, director and producer Mark Williams (co-creator/executive producer of Ozark and director of The Honest Thief and The Accountant) was able to dream up his most ambitious sequences ever for the film’s intense car chase scenes by using lightwall LED projection and the Unreal Engine software.

“Mark and our second unit action director, Guy Norris, came up with a multi-part sequence involving a rampaging garbage truck that was being pursued by Liam’s character’s prized possession, his Dodge Challenger,” said Paul Currie, producer of Blacklight.

Blacklight. Photos Ben King and Paul Currie

 


“We also wanted to have some dialogue between Liam and our other lead character, but as soon as you start combining dangerous action with dialogue, you’re adding enormous complexity to the shooting requirements. Virtual production meant we could safely get the great shots we needed to create entertaining character-driven action scenes,” he said.

Shooting these scenes using virtual production technology at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre also had many other benefits for Blacklight, including solving scheduling constraints over the festive holiday period, allowing more focus on both the performances and the stunts, and enabling the production to minimise the movements of their crew during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Using the lightwall LED projection we were able to film a lot of Liam’s key shoots in his last couple of days on our interior set. We then moved on location to film the big action sequence with Liam’s stunt double, removing the need for Liam to travel,” said Paul.

“The technology also allows for both a more authentic actor performance and more exciting and memorable action scenes too. Knowing we had already shot Liam’s key dialogue and performance meant that we could totally focus on the action of the sequence when we were on location.”

“Additionally, given everyone was working in such a controlled environment, virtual production greatly helped us with implementing our COVID-19 production safety protocols,” he said.

Blacklight. Photos Ben King

 


Like Clayton, Paul believes that virtual production is going to be another storytelling tool that we will see more filmmakers use and that it is extremely exciting for production in Victoria.

“If you are disciplined and prepared, it's a remarkably effective way of working. We learnt a lot on Blacklight and we’re excited to refine our preproduction and previsualisation systems to further push the boundaries of technology to help tell stories in new and exciting ways,” said Paul. 

Film Victoria assisted Blacklight with location and production services and supported the production to film in Victoria through the Victorian Screen Incentive.

To find out more about filming in Victoria, contact Joe Brinkmann, Manager – Production Attraction & Support, at [email protected]

Learn more about Dreamscreen at dreamscreenaustralia.com


WHAT IS VIRTUAL PRODUCTION?

Virtual production requires the use of software such as Unreal Engine to streamline the creation of photoreal environments and allow the live action camera to be tracked in real-time with a 3D background that is projected onto a wall. Using the skills of on-set technicians and the Unreal software, the background automatically adjusts for the movement, angles and the lenses of the live action cameras. This means the projected environment appears 3D at all times during the scene and the actors can physically and emotionally interact with the projected environment.