It’s very likely you’ve been hearing a lot in recent months about “virtual production,” a way that television shows have been creating real-time VFX environments using Unreal Engine technology.
A few months back, Below the Line spoke to Production Designer James Pearse Connely, who specializes in such production, while VFX companies like MELS and Pixomondo have either built or are in the process of building virtual production studios. Up until now, this specialized way of creating background environments has mainly been used for television production with limited use in feature films, but that is changing.
The sci-fi epic Gods of Mars will be the first feature-length film production to fully embrace virtual production technology and special effects artistry (including classic miniature techniques) in order to create its unique take on the sci-fi genre while also reducing costs. Combining these two methods, the production has been able to move faster than usual and work at a fraction of the cost of normal VFX-laden blockbusters.
The film is being produced through a “Mega-Grant” from Epic Games, who created and developed Unreal Engine, which uses powerful video processing cards, huge LED walls and super high resolution LIDAR scans to create expansive three-dimensional environments and breathtaking visual effects. That is then combined with miniature rocket ships, robots and fighting vehicles, all crafted by master artists. By not relying on traditional visual effects workflow, Gods of Mars has been able to reduce production time and costs while delivering “cinematic magic of astonishing realism and beauty.”
The tagline for the film is, “Set in 2099, Gods of Mars centers on a titanic battle for control of the Red Planet after decades of terraforming has produced breathable oxygen and cities have emerged. Its hero is a dishonorably discharged fighter pilot with a personal score to settle with the leader of a group of rebellious miners. Interplanetary in scope, the movie features air-battles through Martian canyons, giant robots, futuristic Martian cities, close combat, and a mystery about the original Gods of Mars.”
The movie is directed by Peter Hyoguchi (First, Last and Deposit, Dwelling) from a screenplay by Emmy Award-winner Jonathan Schriber (Dateline NBC, Living Dangerously, Deadline Discovery) and Donald H. Hewitt, WGA (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Tortoro). The film is being shot by Academy Award-winning Cinematographer David Stump, ASC (American Gods, The Morning Show), who is also the film’s VFX Supervisor, and Michael Franks (All That, Girl Meets World). It’s produced by Christopher Barrett from the Metropolitan Talent Agency) and Fons Davis (Monsters & Fables, Wizard School Dropout), the latter who is also the film’s Production Designer. The film’s line producer is Larry Layfield (Sony Pictures/Cross Wars franchise), while Joan Bevan Webb (Roninfilm) is another producer and production manager. Companies like EPIC GAMES, Epic MegaGrant, Creative Technologies, NVIDI, Cooke Optics, Blackmagic Design and others are acting as corporate production sponsors.
“This groundbreaking technology has incredible advantages,” Hyoguchi said about how “virtual production” is being used on the film. “Actors interact in real-time to backgrounds they can actually see. Green screens are eliminated as is much of post-production. Shooting on location is unnecessary as live action is captured on stage with the LED volume.”
“We are proving just how effective these new virtual production techniques are,” Schriber noted. “Our team is confident we have developed a pipeline that can handle major productions. In other words, it works.”
The producers have even created a mini-documentary about the making of the film, which you can watch below, along with more behind-the-scenes photos from set. You can learn more about the film and production at GodsOfMarsSaga.com.