In the beginning there was reality. If you wanted to film in a kitchen, you found a kitchen to film in. Or, if your budget was larger, you built a kitchen set in a studio. Either way, the actors performed in a real environment, and you could see what you were filming through the camera’s viewfinder.
Then films started using “green screen” (or “blue screen” if you worked in television). Actors perform in a studio, and the surrounding environment is keyed in in the background, either during the filming itself, or more usually, being added in post-production.
In Hollywood this created the opportunity for big-name (i.e. big budget) actors to film all their scenes in a couple of days. Teams of graphic artists would then spend weeks or months adding all the surrounding scenery, as well as other artists to create the finished movie. Expensive, but not as expensive as paying for the megastar to film all their scenes in a studio or on location over the same period of time.
But in the last couple of years, virtual production has been completely transformed. Not only is it a lot more sophisticated than before, but it is now also an affordable way of creating sets and special effects for productions on relatively modest budgets.
The latest technology combines computer-generated imagery (CGI), augmented reality and motion capture to create an environment where actors can completely and convincingly interact with a non-existent world around them, and this can be done in real time. So the finished result can be seen on a studio monitor at the time of the shoot, and there is only a small amount of post-production required (e.g. grading the colours to look perfect).
Furthermore, it is no longer necessary to use giant green screens for the background. The availability of cheap, high resolution LED panels means that the background image is physically present in the studio for the actors to interact with. Anyone who has seen ABBA Voyage in London will know how effective these giant LED screens can be.
The advantages for Space City are clear. We can film in several locations in one day, which would be impossible using traditional film production. We can film either in locations that look contemporary and realistic, or we can relatively easily create a Dickensian London street or the surface of Mars, if that is what the script requires.
The technology is moving very quickly and, fortunately, the UK is at the cutting edge of developing visual effects software and equipment. Best of all, if it’s done properly, the viewer doesn’t even have to know what’s happening. As John Lennon said, “nothing is real.”