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Black Nights 2021 - Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event

Industry Report: New Media

At Tallinn's European Film Forum, experts explore the new frontiers of virtual production


A cost-effective solution for European creators and producers, virtual production is set to shake up the whole filmmaking process in the coming years

At Tallinn's European Film Forum, experts explore the new frontiers of virtual production
(l-r) Sten-Kristian Saluveer and Max Pavlov during the European Film Forum

On 22 November, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival's European Film Forum hosted a panel titled "Untackling virtual and remote production: What's the impact for creators, producers, service providers and the industry?" moderated by Sten-Kristian Saluveer.

The first speaker was Max Pavlov, CEO of Latvia's Led Unit Studios, who recently worked on production such as Mauro Borrelli's flick Warhunt (starring Mickey Rourke in the leading role) and Stephan Rick's The Good Neighbour. Before producing its own content and inaugurating the Riga-based 16,000-square-foot site, Led Unit Studios worked as a service production company for the last 15 years. Pavlov said that many of the projects they are attracting "look like American movies" but are shot in this state-of-the-art Latvian studio. The general idea is to spend less on production to earn more through sales by "killing travel and transportation costs." The company's brand-new studios are one of the largest European facilities for virtual production, equipped with the latest software and hardware solutions. "The physical set is surrounded by huge LED walls working as the backdrop of the location. When you move the camera, the parallax effect gives you the illusion you're in the real location," Pavlov explained. Creative opportunities are potentially endless and, despite the company's initial expectations to attract mostly commercials shoots, more and more feature-length projects are accessing the facility. For example, last week, Led Unit Studios hosted the filming of a Disney production and the scenes were entirely set in Moscow, with no need to travel to the Russian capital. In addition, filmmakers had the control of the weather conditions, lighting, props and a wider camera movement freedom. Currently, Led Unit Studios also offers its clients qualified manpower capable of handling the studio's equipment. "We need to take into account our carbon footprint. Many build a set for just one day of filming and then they trash everything. We hired a European auditing company, specialised in this field. We compared the making of the same scene made in a real set and one replicated in our studio environment. We found out that virtual production is about eight times more efficient that the classical way of filming. [...] This is the future of the industry not just because it's cost-effective, but because this technology is sustainable" he added. Such a groundbreaking development is obviously set to shake up the industry: "This technology is still quite new, some people are sceptical about it, but just 15 years ago the first digital cameras were released and someone else was sceptical at the time. The same thing is happening now," Pavlov concluded.

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Later, Fireframe Studios' Chief Operating Officer Mikko Kodisoja explained that, despite always having been a movie buff, he started his career in the gaming industry. The viewing of Veselin Efremov's short Adam, which at the time pushed the boundaries of the game engine Unity, was a clear sign that real-time engines were set to play a crucial role in the future of filmmaking. In a context where softwares are becoming more accessible and not exclusively accessed by big studios, the Finnish entrepreneur decided to exit his company and to create Fireframe to focus solely on virtual production. Currently, Fireframe owns a 1000sq studio and production facilities in the proximity of Helsinki's city centre. The team consists of a rare mix of professionals from the gaming, VFX and film industries, committed to following all the stages of the production process. Pavlov admitted it's not always been easy to find a "common language" owing to these people's very different backgrounds, and called for more dedicated educational programmes to fill this gap in the future. "We made virtual production more visible. We've been inviting prod houses, screenwriters, DoPs, crew members to see how everything works, what kind of content you can write and what kind of films you can make if you'd like to go with this more cost-efficient solution," he added.

In the last part of the panel, Saluveer hosted a fireside chat with Peeter Jalakas, Estonian theatre director and innovator. Speaking about the impact of XR and virtual productions on theatre and live performances, Jalakas said: "Theatre is supposed to be happening live, that's an art that doesn't exist without the audience. What you do through other media or broadcast, it's something else. I'm not saying this is good or bad, but just something different. There're some limits, of course, but it's still an open door to the creation of some new formats." Saluveer asked how the theatre community would receive the introduction of these technologies into their work and Jalakas is confident it will meet little scepticism: "There's fascination and interest towards new technologies. [...] Many actors like to play in a Breachtian way, for both the audience and for the camera." In the final part of their conversation, Jalakas and Saluveer agreed on the importance of favouring technological experimentation not only on the commercial side, but also on the artistic one, making more ventures and financing available and bringing innovation in theatre and other art forms.

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