Full-service sound and picture finishing facility Pace Pictures recently hosted Director Sean (The Great Buck Howard, Silver Lake) McGinly‘s feature length romantic comedy Match, using Pace’s groundbreaking virtual production technology, something that has become more common in the age of COVID.
Match is an adult take on intimacy and isolation in the modern world through the lens of online dating, starring Austin Nichols (Ray Donovan, The Walking Dead), Ahna O’Reilly (The Help, Fruitvale Station) and Spencer Garrett (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Bombshell).
The actors were shot on a green screen stage and placed in virtual 3D environments that allowed McGinly to use complex camera movement and lighting, but it also allowed them to finish principal photography in just five days at a much smaller cost than traditional film productions.
Virtual production isn’t new, but the technology behind it has gotten more sophisticated, less costly and easier to use, and it’s also, no longer limited to Hollywood blockbusters. It’s becoming a practical solution for mainstream productions that need to consider social distancing and budget.
On the choice by McGinly to go that route, Pace Productions president Heath Ryan said, “Virtual production makes sense for a lot of projects. It allows productions to work in a socially distanced manner, protecting the health and safety of talent and crew. It also eliminates some of the problems of working on location. If you are shooting a scene in a desert, you must protect your actors and crew from the elements. Now, you can shoot in air conditioned comfort. It’s going to be an essential new tool for production.”
Pace Pictures is using stYpe’s RedSpy camera and lens tracking software on its virtual production stage, which allows actors to be composited into 3D environments on the fly. The software tracks camera motion and lighting with precision and applies that data to the background, resulting in an illusion that is imperceptible and convincing.
Scenes for Match were shot on a green screen stage at Pace Pictures’ Hollywood facility and streamed at high-speed to Ryan, who was producing and editing the film while quarantined in a hotel room in Queensland, Australia. Using a laptop, Ryan helped place the actors into the appropriate backgrounds and sent the results back to Los Angeles. Rough composites were available for McGinly and his crew to review in as little as an hour.
Ryan worked through the night to compensate for the 17-hour time difference between Australian and California. “I was able to review every set up and every take, and make decisions about the backgrounds “The lighting was programmed, so we were able to demonstrate how things were working to Sean, his cinematographer, the production designer and assistants on the stage.”
Pace Pictures Cinematographer/Colorist Jason Knutzen shot interior and exterior locations around Los Angeles and collected geometric data that made it possible to place talent into each environment with proper perspective, the pandemic making that part of the process easier than usual. “We shot in restaurants, hotels and bars that are normally hard to access, but were available due to COVID-19 restrictions. We recorded those, and many other environments, and brought them onto our stage,” Ryan explained.
Pace Pictures’ virtual production workflow extended to post-production color grading and finishing, as media was streamed from the stage to Ryan’s hotel room in Australia sent in the form of Avid DNX files. “I was editing material with code that linked to the original raw files. The edited sequences I sent back could be played back at full 4K resolution in our color suite.” Post-production work is ongoing at Pace’s facility with visual effects artist Raleigh Stewart handling final compositing of the actors and backgrounds.
Although virtual production has been of particular interest recently due to the limitations set by COVID-19, Ryan believes it has wider application and will be embraced by filmmakers long after the pandemic is over. He concludes, “Virtual production can significantly cut costs. We shot the talent for Match with just a dozen crew people. We still require dollies, Steadi-cams and other conventional gear, but we are able to dramatically reduce the footprint,” adding, “It’s wonderful for actors and directors as it allows them to focus on performances without concern for the weather or other environmental factors. It goes way beyond covid. It’s a benefit that will appeal to a lot of filmmakers.”
You can learn more about Pace Pictures at PacePictures.com.