The UK creative workforce is being trained to be the most skilled in the world at virtual production as it becomes more in demand than ever for all audiovisual content — including the metaverse
StoryFutures, the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling — run by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and Royal Holloway, University of London —is front and centre of the ambitions of the UK film and TV industry to equip the next generation of talent behind the camera with the skills to use virtual production (VP). It recognises that distinct approaches are needed for different people and businesses and so offers a unique blend of training with research and development expertise.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (part of UK Research and Innovation), StoryFutures offers training options including open access introductory sessions, the six-month NFTS Virtual Production Certificate (sponsored by Warner Bros Discovery Access and Screen Scotland), undergraduate Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the VP Futures production accelerator for businesses. StoryFutures has been developing VP training programmes and strategies over the past three years.
StoryFutures VP lead Peter Richardson explains that producers from every corner of the industry, including features and high-end TV, are lining up to learn about VP. “They come to StoryFutures eager to upskill, to be able to assess whether VP is right for their project and to understand the implications,” he asserts.
“They say, ‘I’m being asked to schedule or budget for a production or high-end TV and the director is asking for this particular type of scene. It looks like it should be VP, but I’m not certain I know how to budget for it,’” Richardson adds.
Having a volume stage operational at the NFTS is key to training costs remaining manageable. “Running a training programme, you need access to a very expensive, time-consuming piece of equipment,” he says. “Having the volume stage means we’ve taken that cost out.”
Among the flagship programmes, StoryFutures has partnered with Future Screens NI for VP Futures, a unique production training and development programme where eight companies tested new ideas, upskilled their teams and received extensive mentorship from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Epic Games. The programme was created to build VP skills in the workforce and increase capacity in UK businesses, allowing them to take up new opportunities coming on stream in VP and real-time technologies.
TV producer and director Andrea Miller, her company Sunnyside Productions and writer Jon Gilbert secured the support of VP Futures to produce short factual drama The Surreal Life using VP techniques.
“I have no background in special effects so being given the chance to learn about VP and make something really ambitious in this very new technology is a huge new skill boost,” says Miller.
Miller and Gilbert’s team included DoP Aaron Rogers, fresh from HBO’s House Of The Dragon, and actors Jamael Westman, Ross Tomlinson and Nicholas Day. The resulting film is a taster for a four-part series set in the 1920s and ’30s about the Surrealists.
Mentoring ‘money can’t buy’
Working in Unreal Engine 5, Miller became increasingly proficient in state-of-the-art technology and describes the support from Epic Games and Industrial Light & Magic as help “money can’t buy”. The mentors spent hours going through storyboards and the script in forensic detail. They gave practical advice and instruction on achieving the shots.
Miller expects to use VP for several scenes in the series when it goes into production. “Now we know more about where VP is best used, we are developing various ideas in both fiction and non-fiction,” she explains. “It’s an exciting new way to tell stories.”
ILM London senior VFX supervisor David Vickery, along with ILM London executive in charge of production Sue Lyster and Ben Morris, creative director and senior VFX supervisor, signed up to support VP Futures from its launch.
“It struck us as a brilliant way to broaden the horizons of our industry and to engage a more diverse group of people in VP and its broad set of skills,” Vickery says. “We saw the opportunity to engage a new group of people — diverse, young, talented, enthusiastic, small to medium enterprises who could challenge the norm.
“The more diverse stories and ideas that we can engage with broadens the scope of what VP can do,” he adds. “The more we mentor young people and companies with our existing knowledge within VP, the more we get back.”
As the skills needs of the creative industries evolve, StoryFutures will iterate its unique training and R&D programmes alongside.
Join StoryFutures at its upcoming VP Skills Report 2023 launch and webinar on February 23 from 13.00 GMT. Sign up at storyfutures.com or follow @storyfutures on social media
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