How the UK visual effects and post-production community has adapted to the pandemic | Characteristics

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With the Covid-19 pandemic creating unprecedented challenges for the UK film and television production industry, the visual effects and post-production community has found itself forced to adapt to new practices and technologies work in a short time.

Five people from across the UK working in the industry tell us how they have been doing the past few months and why they are so confident in the future.

Whatis the most exciting project youhave you worked recently?

Kaya Jabar (Visualization Supervisor, Framestore, London): Midnight sky [Netflix]. Being brought in to help plan the LED screen built around the observatory and organize virtual camera sessions for the bunker sinking footage posed some very unique challenges. Being able to plan the scope of the physical build by creating engineering mockups in Unreal Engine and using real-time reflections to show the effects on the actual assembly was very satisfying.

Llyr Williams (Senior Visual Effects Artist and Head of Computer Graphics, Bait Studios, Wales): Last year we delivered visual effects for the film Dream horse [Raw/Warner Bros]. We were tasked with filling out several shots with crowds of spectators at the Chepstow and Newbury racetracks. We knew early on that this could only be achieved with a CG crowd system, so we started to develop a tool within SideFX Houdini. This was our first time tackling large CG crowds, so it was a learning curve, but now we have a tool that allows us to quickly fill in areas with just a few clicks; something that has obvious potential given the current filming restrictions.

'Course of action'

Sophia McKeever (post-production supervisor, Yellowmoon, Northern Ireland): My most exciting recent project would have to be the sixth series of Course of action [BBC]. Having worked on previous series as a daily assistant at the start of my career and as a post-production supervisor for the next series, this is a production that I really enjoy working on. This series contains some large-scale action sequences, which provided us with an exciting new challenge in terms of VFX and sound design.

ELena Vitanza Chiarani (Creature Supervisor, Axis Studios, Scotland): Build a Digi-Double creature for a project that is still in production. Creating a photorealistic creature is quite difficult on its own, but creating a photorealistic Digi-Double is one of the most difficult tasks when it comes to visual effects. Especially when you consider that the creature is a primate that looks a lot like a human but has an added level of complexity in the fur.

Basia Lalik (independent post-production supervisor) Big little lies 2, for HBO. We started post-production in London and moved it to LA halfway. We worked in three time zones between London, Montreal and LA, under very tight TX deadlines. When one of us was sleeping, another person had to work, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to!

How did you navigate the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic?

K J : Creativity and motivation were the biggest challenges. As humans our creativity comes from experience and being confined to our homes really affected the visualization team. We have tried to manage this by introducing virtual meeting rooms, allowing artists a few hours a week to explore and research topics that interest them and that they believe will improve their work or life.

LW: Apart from the obvious limitations of working online, communication has been good. I would say the review sessions were the most difficult to manage; not being able to review the work together on a big screen. Detail work such as grain matching and technical verification is difficult. It is simply a matter of adjusting the way we work while maintaining a high level of performance.

SM: We were extremely lucky to already have a number of projects in post-production when all film and TV productions had to stop filming. In response to the new regulations, we’ve designed a new workflow to handle the final post remotely, using an app called Shotgun to allow our clients to review new shots on location and on set or, in this case , from their home. Our remote review, ADR recording, mixing and online workflow was really put to the test in HTM’s last post. Blood lands for the BBC. The rating was reviewed remotely by our customers on iPad Pro, which provided excellent color accuracy. Mixing and online processes were also conducted remotely, with files shared over the network and discussions held on Zoom. ADR recording was done by implementing strict Covid-compliant rules within our studio, keeping the recorder and artist separate at all times.

EVC: I am a very active mother of two, so for me balancing work / home school and personal life has been quite difficult. While chatting with colleagues, I noticed issues that we all shared, such as insomnia, difficulty separating private and professional life, communication issues, missing social interactions, etc.

BL: I was supposed to start working on Its dark materials 2 [HBO] when the pandemic started and my immediate fear was that the series would not be finished filming. Fortunately, with the help of VFX and some smart editing, the team came up with some very creative solutions to make the story work and continue post-production. We managed to record creature dialogues and some remote ADR all over the world. Fortunately, in the summer, we were allowed to return to the studios with strict social distancing policies in place. Our post house has come up with a very efficient solution for remote exams so that we can continue with only a few people present in Soho. It’s fascinating how quickly the industry has adapted.

How do you think the Covid pandemic will change the UK ‘s VFX and post industry in the longer term?

K J : It really accelerated global collaboration and widened the talent pool. I also look forward to making virtual production workflows more accessible and robust, bringing more of that tactile and grounded feeling to purely virtual content creation. I can’t wait for everyone to have a virtual camera on their desk and be able to create more freely!

Llyr Williams at work_Bait

LW: The pandemic has forced us into a situation where we can assess the pros and cons of flexible remote working. The potential is there to have businesses with large teams of artists working entirely online in the UK and beyond, but I think it’s still important to have a physical base. I consider that some kind of hybrid working method is the best way to go. Virtual production technology used in shows like The Mandalorian [LucasFilm] is also very exciting. It’s about integrating the VFX process a lot more into productions, which can only be a good thing.

SM: I think we’ll move to a more remote process for some aspects of the final release. Not only did this provide flexibility, but it also took into account the global reach of the film industry, making final reviews available in different time zones. Adapting the optimal mix of old and new approaches to each production will be essential in the future.

EVC: I miss the office, but I think it’s great to have the ability to work from home. Especially as a parent, I think a hybrid solution could solve many of the issues I faced before Covid-19, trying to balance all of my day-to-day responsibilities.

BL: Working from home will certainly be more acceptable. And maybe we can have an even bigger talent pool because people won’t have to physically live in London anymore. I think the demand is also increasing. People are watching more, so we need more content. Filming is and will be limited for a while, so filmmakers are looking for solutions within visual effects.

Finally, why do you think the UKs Does the visual effects offer remain so world leader?

K J : VFX has always been on the border between art and technology and the UK seems to have found that perfect balance between education and sensitivity to allow us to innovate in the field.

LW: There are VFX companies all over the UK and last year has shown us that this work can be done from anywhere by a huge pool of young, enthusiastic VFX artists.

SM: Getting into such a competitive industry can often be intimidating, but with the support of funding bodies such as NI Screen and BFI, young talent is supported and encouraged through a number of diverse training programs. Visual effects are quickly becoming a staple practice in post-production, with demand so high that there is no shortage of young emerging talent.

EVC: This is for a variety of reasons, both economic and cultural. The big companies are located in the UK, the workforce is amazing, and the visual effects schools are some of the best in the world. It’s a winning combination in my opinion.

BL: We have a fantastic talent pool – not just from the UK but across Europe – and competitive tax breaks. I also think Britain has a remarkable cinematic history, and that brings tremendous confidence.


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