Weta Digital, which recently launched an original animated content division, has partnered with Avalon Studios and Streamliner to create a new LED-stage virtual production service, based in Wellington, New Zealand. This alliance brings together Weta’s VFX prowess with live stage expertise from Streamliner and production facilities from Avalon. Crucially, though, the health and safety benefits of working in New Zealand, which effectively controlled the pandemic, will help attract productions of all sizes for this ready-to-use package.
Similar in concept to Industrial Light & Magic’s LED-screen StageCraft platform, launched for “The Mandalorian” series, Weta’s system also relies on the real-time Unreal engine from Epic Games in accelerating a paradigm shift for the industry, offering social distancing and smaller crews, while reducing the size and scope of location shoots, set builds, and crowd scenes for the foreseeable future.
“Adding LED stage capabilities to Wellington’s Avalon Studios adds yet another compelling reason for productions to consider shooting in New Zealand,” said Weta Digital executive producer David Conley. “LED stages are the latest technique to take advantage of game engine technology to provide virtual production workflows that can greatly expand what is possible on set. Being able to shoot final VFX imagery at the same time as principal photography adds another level of creative control for producers and filmmakers.”
The new workflow features large, easily configurable LED panels that are able to display imagery well beyond 8K as a way to augment practical sets and often replace green screen shots for backgrounds and exteriors. It also lends itself to seamlessly combining footage from multiple stages, making it ideal for keeping crew sizes smaller.
“While ramping production back up is obviously where the focus is right now [with the ‘Avatar’ sequels doing re-shoots], we are in the middle of an era of unprecedented growth in content production,” added Conley. “And virtual production can be a great asset. The more we can augment the onset environment to include proxy elements or even final shot elements, the more we can de-risk the creative process up front and deliver the closest possible version of what the director envisions. This has the potential to enhance the story and reduce cost. In the short term, we are probably more likely to see shots moving to full CG to help reduce shoot days or replace entire location shoots. For us and many facilities, these workflows offer stability and predictability, two things currently in short supply.”
Gary Watkins, CEO, Avalon Studios, is looking to provide “the safest work environment possible as productions look to ramp back up. This new setup allows producers to think strategically about what they shoot and limit the number of actors and onset crew required, changing post-production requirements. Avalon has four main stages of varying sizes and dedicated spaces to house additional departments, making it a perfect hub for local and international productions.”
Experience is the key, not experimentation, said Richard Manu, general manager of Streamliner: “Our crew combines decades of live event experience with an in-depth knowledge of high-end video systems and we’re adept at working on high profile, time critical projects. Although we were early adopters in LED screen technology, having that alone just isn’t enough. We have the established infrastructure to make this a plug and play pipeline rather than a science experiment. Our investment in several LED screen types, large format laser projection, and world leading media server platforms will give productions confidence we have it all covered.”
The LED stage service is flexible and built to scale for any size project. The services are also applicable as qualified spend for international and local screen funding schemes.