Filmmakers, whether they’re directing a commercial or a three-hour cinematic epic, rely on proven technology. This is because, when movie production costs upwards of $20,000 per hour (when accounting for everyone on set), sticking to established technology is the safe way to get the job done. Aside from these high-stakes situations, the film industry still embraces innovation. There are many within the industry who experiment with different tech and techniques, they just don’t do it during high-dollar productions. It’s this experimentation that drives filmmaking innovation, where groups question the established ways of shooting, editing, or sound. As these innovations gain traction, some companies develop those technologies at scale, and others adopt them to realize efficiency, cost, and production value benefits.
New Technology Brings Layers of Benefits
When cinematographers, filmmakers and production companies bring onboard new technology, they’re trying to achieve one or more goals. A primary goal is to improve the production value of their finished footage. The new technology should enable clearer shots, new angles and techniques, more advanced editing, or similar capabilities that impact value. Another is it provides them access to jobs that were previously out of reach due to filming, editing, or post-production technology limitations. A commercial production company could expand its offerings to new clients that require sophisticated or layered shots. Speed is a third benefit. Technology tools that can change a multi-day production into an afternoon’s work are invaluable. Firms can bid more competitively on jobs because they lower labor costs while improving quality.
Remote Production, Robot Arms, and LED Walls
Technology advances for remote production accelerated during the pandemic as filmmakers adapted to social distancing and travel restrictions. With video conferencing combined with software tools that make camera feed available as a stream in real time, directors, producers, and other collaborators can view footage and perform their duties remotely.
Production companies can build any location or scene with photorealistic 3D graphics with software such as Unreal Engine, and then digitally insert people into those environments. So, a company could conduct interviews with their CEO in Manhattan with guests in Mumbai or Kansas, and they’d appear together seamlessly on a digital “set.” This “virtual production” has transformed the filmmaking business, where series such as “The Mandalorian” shoot with LED walls that can project any type of scene. This technology replaces green screens and enables the entire filmmaking team to see the complete footage (minus visual effects) in real time on a monitor.
A complementary advancement to remote and virtual production is virtual location scouting, where a firm can give directors and production heads virtual tours and 3D captures of potential shooting locations. It reduces the number of location visits required for a commercial, TV, or movie shoot, and provides decision makers the information they need to make informed decisions. Virtual location firms render spaces in 3D, so the various collaborators can measure dimensions, place comments, and make other notations within the virtual environment.
Another type of physical technology shifting filmmaking is robot camera arms. These devices, such as the advanced products from SISU Cinema Robotics, enable production firms and filmmakers to capture footage in dynamic and repeatable ways. Consider a shoot of a new line of sneakers, where the shoe brand wants the same swooping shot to capture 20 different pairs. Doing this manually is a painstaking process, requiring days of prep and dozens of takes for each shot. With a robotic arm-operated camera, a user utilizes a handheld remote to direct the arm, and this action is savable for future use. They can shoot video of one shoe with the steady robot, and then capture the exact same movements, distance, and other attributes with the robot’s saved settings. The editing team can composite identical-looking shots together, to create fluid content that’s not possible by a human hand.
Another use case for robot arm control is with commercials requiring a dropped object, such as a strawberry into a bowl of cereal. Traditionally done with a boom and various contraptions, this shot might take 100 takes before it’s perfect. With a robot that comes with a dropper attachment, the team can trigger a drop down to the millisecond, with programmed tracking for the target the entire time. It improves production speed, precision, and flexibility.
Finally, when it comes to layering, an adept person could repeatedly hit the same mark plus or minus a few inches—’probably’. Robots however, plus or minus a few microns (a micron is 0.001mm) and when it comes to film, that means perfect frame-by-frame repeatability.
Pushing Forward New Technology
For the C-suite and other top executives involved in video production and filmmaking, there’s several best practices to drive new technology adoptions. The first step is to listen to employees, including the younger staff who understand the latest advancements and discussion forums. Solicit advice from everyone in the company about tech they’d like to try, especially when it comes with potential cost and time savings. Ask staff members what they’re watching on YouTube, or innovations they’ve read about from the latest film set. Another strategy is finding a minimum viable product, by asking what’s the easiest and most cost-effective thing the team can try that will prove useful. Maybe it involves seeing a demo, renting the technology for a day, or taking on a three-month lease. Push your team to find the lowest barrier to entry and remember with filmmaking there’s often multiple ways to do a shoot, edit, and add effects. Find your ideal mix of new innovations and established technology and practices to outshine the competition, reduce costs, and craft exhilarating content.
Written by Russell Aldridge, CEO of SISU Cinema Robotics.
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