The impact of virtual production on the role of location managers

KFTV VIRTUAL PRODUCTION REPORT: Leading location managers tell KFTV how virtual production has had a positive and negative effect on their work

By Adrian Pennington 22 Mar 2022

The impact of virtual production on the role of location managers
John Rakich, LMGI president

KFTV Virtual Production Report: Impact of VP on location managers

Top location managers working on big projects like Disney's new Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi talk about the impact of virtual production

The need to populate the volume with realistic locations (in many instances) means the job of the location manager hasn’t fundamentally changed. 

“It still has to be found and photographed,” says location manager John Rakich. “When VP started to become popular a lot of location managers began to worry for their jobs but just as with green screen there’s a need for a photoreal interactive element so a tangible asset still needs to be found.” 

Conventionally, a location scout would capture locations on camera and present it as an option to the production designer, director and producer. “Sometimes the scout and/or VFX dept would return with a 360-camera, drone or high-resolution cameras and Lidar scanners to capture the location as raw data,” Rakich says.

The data can be built in 3D animation and visualised in Virtual Reality for creative keys to work out where to put sets and place cameras without actually spending time and money doing so for real.

“I’ve climbed mountains and trekked Vietnamese jungles to find cool locations but there’s no way you could bring a whole crew back to film there,” says location manager Zachary Quemore (Obi-Wan Kenobi; Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). “Exotic locations like these are opened up with VP.”

Quemore now photographs locations in 360 degrees and in high dynamic range (HDR) which allows VFX to manipulate the light on set at any time or day they want.

“I also scout for photogrammetry,” he says. “I’m looking for materials or textures of things like lava tubes or sand dunes that a small VFX crew can come back and capture into Unreal then scale it up or down at will.”

Quemore records 180-degree video into his own VR scouting app. “The assets I create can be plugged directly into previz, production design can move or resize buildings or try different furniture, set construction loves it because they can do full measurements and VFX can use it throughout the whole process including to destroy the virtual construction or build set extensions.”

He finds work on the location management side has increased not diminished. VP stages have sprung up in city centres and warehouses and still require all the paraphernalia of a regular soundstage.

“The crew has not got smaller with VP. You still have lighting, camera and dressing teams. The logistics of where to park trucks has shifted onto us. In addition, while it takes minutes to change a virtual location the foreground is still a physical construction which often means productions are running crews overnight to get the set ready. The scheduling and permitting of that has fallen on us.”

He says Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi shoot was a mix of ILM’s Volume and location shoots. “If The Mandalorian proved just how much we can do in virtual production, Obi-Wan is the evolution of VP with a perfect marriage of both real and virtual worlds. Virtual production may get increasingly photoreal but you’re never going to beat the feel of an actual location.”


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