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question of the week


How does virtual production supercharge the creative process?

Is virtual production a tool that can save time and drive efficiencies or one that unlocks unlimited creative possibilities?

By Olivia Atkins

The emerging discipline of ‘virtual production’ – the broad term for using real-time engines and mixed reality technologies – is fundamentally changing the way in which commercials are made.

This means key creatives can now collaborate and compose entire shots in pre-production and make changes on the fly – everything from the scene and lighting, to characters and camera direction can all be reviewed and iterated together in real time. But surely this is just another technique, and part of the mix for creatives and not always the answer? And what does it mean for the creative craft?

Given Reckitt Benckiser Group – owner of the Dettol, Durex and Finish brands – recently announced its intent to move the majority of its marketing production projects to virtual production, it’s a phenomena that is fast catching on.

Creative Salon spoke to a number of industry insiders to find out what they think of the evolutionary virtual production process.

Elliot Harris, global executive creative director, Reckitt, and creative partner, Havas London

As Reckitt’s global lead creative agency, I know for a fact that it wouldn’t be embracing virtual production if there was any hint it might negatively impact creativity. That’s why we trialled this approach so extensively in our recent pilot – the results of which were so overwhelmingly positive that it’s now being rolled out globally, and at scale.

Within the industry, there’s an (unfounded) fear that virtual production might constrict creativity, but having actually trialled the technology and approach, I’d say the opposite is true. Virtual production gives creativity a chance to breathe again, to actually visualise more of what’s possible, and the ability to tell stories that we may not have even thought about yet.

In a world of cost-cutting, travel limitations, and shoot days being minimised, we are always having to find ways to reduce the creative idea. On the other hand, if embraced at a conceptual stage, this technology will actually open up creative possibilities, allowing people to think with a bit more freedom. And what creative wouldn’t want to see more of their idea on the screen, instead of having it killed in pre-production?

It’s an amazing new tool – trust me, I’ve tried it. Use it properly, and creatives are limited only by their own imaginations.

Emily Marr, chief production officer, Leo Burnett

There are clearly countless benefits to virtual production. From the obvious cost and timing factors, to having complete environmental control, the argument has been that it provides a more collaborative process in contrast to the more conventional production techniques.

TV and film have always been key components in terms of creative inspiration and the idea of being able to deliver Hollywood-quality content without the ever-present necessity for big budgets is clearly an attractive one. On top of this is the incredibly powerful, and extremely relevant, fact that it’s a considerable boost for sustainability with so much being possible in one space. There is the obvious case of less travel and a lower carbon footprint but add to this the fact that you can also reuse the same assets across different mediums such as augmented reality, virtual reality, online and print is a total win-win.

I think that we are still just at the beginning of what is possible with this ground-breaking technology and, as always, things will start to get really exciting from our side when technology is no longer a barrier to creativity. It’s all about being comfortable with what can be achieved, and this comfort will come from experience and knowledge.

Alan Young, chief creative officer, St Luke’s

You’ve probably never heard of the first animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. When I was small, I couldn’t wait to see it but it came as a grave disappointment, even to a kid, as 2D cell animation could never do justice to the images that this amazing story conjured up and it has been consigned to the dustbin of film history. It took another 23 years for Peter Jackson to adapt it properly and it was new tech that made it possible.

So, can the next generation of virtual production help advertising creatives see greater justice done to their ideas? I’m confident it can.

“Yes, it’s a great script but the budget simply won’t go to night shoot/to shoot it at magic hour/to use that extraordinary location/to build a set as big as that”. This is what every CD and producer is forced to tell young teams in every agency, every day.

Script meetings are often more about stripping out ambition than building it in. With digital production working simultaneously with film production, VP gives us increasing opportunities to switch that conversation round. Could the location be more dramatic? Why don’t we shoot it all at night? Why not make the set feel 10 times as big?

It’s time to deal in ambition, not in compromise or disappointment.

Nicholas Hulley, chief creative officer, AMV BBDO

Film gave way to digital. Helicopter shots gave way to drones. And film sets and locations are now ready to give way to virtual production.

There is always craft anxiety with these technological shifts but, fundamentally, any tool that removes barriers to creation – and virtual production promises that – has to be more good than bad.

The dream surely is to be only limited by our imaginations.

Of course, there are things to worry about. The more post-production becomes pre-production and the ability to almost fully storyboard a finished film, the greater the risk that the joy and magic of risk is removed from the process. So often, we create by adapting, by happy accident, by building the plane while you’re flying it. Edits often emerge by seeing them and feeling the emotion, which you cannot do by pure logic. Turbo creativity is never paint by numbers.

As long as we don’t indulge in false binaries, but rather see it as an incredible addition to the toolbox. And see it as perhaps an incredibly efficient business tool to create all the multiplicity of the assets campaigns need these days. And as long as we remember that this doesn’t replace imagination and experimentation and creative risk-taking but rather serves it, then it will be wonderful.

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