Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Shot with Virtual Production

In the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from the early days of blue and green screens to using hyper-realistic virtual production that is indistinguishable to the human eye. 

A virtual set uses game engines and other technologies to display life-like environments and backgrounds on ultra-high-definition LED screens, strategically placed behind actors while filming. So far, it’s game-changing. Productions can be made faster, better, and for less money than on-location shoots.

Here are a few movies you didn’t realize were shot on virtual sets.

The Irishman (2019)

While watching The Irishman on Netflix, did you wonder how the actors transition from their 30s in the beginning to their 60s by the end? According to Vulture, the team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) made it happen using virtual production.

Based on Charles Brandt’s biography of a mob hit man, Frank Sheeran, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the story spans approximately seven decades. 

To appropriately age and de-age the actors, ILM used artificial intelligence, motion-capture technology, and a three-camera system to virtually reproduce sets and locations. This allows the actors to shoot their scenes without the need for hours in the makeup chair or special mo-cap suits.

Red Notice (2021)

The film stars Dwayne Johnson as an FBI agent chasing art thieves, played by Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. 

To meet Netflix’s tight deadline, visual effects company Lux Machina built a virtual set consisting of LED walls, an LED ceiling, and mobile screens that were moved where needed.

A large volume of screens were used to create a fight on board a moving train, as well as a scene on a helicopter. The film was the fifth most streamed movie on any platform in 2021.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

The racing, the stunts, the crashes, most of that was real, but not everything. Virtual production was used to extend the courses, add to the crowds, and build some from scratch.

The production team used Unreal Engine, another game engine, to fix angles, create rain during a race, and tie footage together. They used similar stylization to better match the original, traditionally shot footage.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

With Top Gun: Maverick, what you see is what you get. All the aerial maneuvers, the barrel rolls, the ups and downs, they’re all real.

Well, almost…

This film used very little digital FX. However, scenes where it would’ve been impossible to mount a camera on a fighter jet traveling at the speed of sound, were the scenes in which virtual production was used. 

Without the tech, shots of the pilot’s facial expressions and the cockpit in flight wouldn’t exist, and the film would be all the lesser for it. The team at Lux Machina used a game engine called Disguise to render 270-degree views by blending images from 15 projectors.

The Future of Film

For the last 20 years, video production has sparked conversation about a massive transformation in the Industry. Will we soon be using AI to make actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers obsolete? Not likely. It’s far more possible that the entertainment industry will work with technology to continue to improve the moviegoing experience. 

The more authentic a story is, and a movie seems, the more plugged in we are. Virtual production creates realistic settings that get viewers emotionally involved in the story. We end up caring about the protagonist and rooting for their win. Films like Red Notice know to capitalize on that relationship to bring in more viewers.

Have more questions on virtual production? 

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Want to learn about virtual production and how to use it?

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