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Opinion: The state of virtual production

Tim Moore, CEO at Vu Technologies, discusses emerging trends in the virtual production market

In the wake of back-to-back labour strikes last year, the media and entertainment industry experienced a decline of historic proportions, with a 52 per cent decrease in production spending compared to the previous year and so much collateral damage that the effects have yet to be fully tallied. However in 2024, virtual production earnings have bounced back, with 35 per cent growth in the corporate and education sector.

But the market is forecasted to be a tale of two cities. As the volatile media and entertainment market continues to stifle investment in the industry, a rising number of corporate and higher education virtual studios will take virtual production technologies to new audiences with different use cases. With compounding disruption and volatile labour markets, radical transformation is quickly approaching.

The continued pace of innovation in the production industry has been relentlessly accelerating with advancements in computer graphics, and new creative workflows that are coming out so quickly it is outpacing the market’s ability to commercialise them into viable solutions. With another looming strike on the horizon for M&E, and innovations in generative AI continuing to redefine how content is created, this year is expected to be one of the most transformative years in the industry since the shift to digital in the early 2000s.

We have reached the tipping point of advanced computer graphics

We are at a unique moment in time where new innovations in real-time computer graphics and paradigm shifts in AI-powered workflows are allowing creators to make content at super-human speeds. For years, the human brain was the greatest processor in the world, but now there is a new species of AI in town and it’s reaching human-like capabilities in almost every category of communication, including visual communication. Computer-generated visuals are so advanced that the human brain can no longer distinguish what’s real or not. We have officially reached the tipping point. With new advanced technologies like generative AI and real-time virtual production, photo-realistic imaging is not just a creative aspiration, it’s a widely accessible reality.

The AI crash is coming

The Gen AI crash is coming, but not every AI company will feel it. Hype cycles are nothing new in the market. They often start when new transformative technologies emerge with a promise to change the world, then speculative investment capital propels the technologies into orbit before they are ready for mass commercialisation, leading to spectacular crashes that decimate large parts of the industry.

In the recent virtual production hype cycle of 2022, there was a bit of a different effect that happened. Fuelled by a huge surge in demand during the pandemic, the virtual production market experienced accelerated growth in 2021-2022, but the forces of gravity set in and eventually brought it right back down the following year. However, unlike some of the other technologies that thrived during the pandemic, virtual production has taken another accelerated upswing this year, suggesting a trajectory we are used to seeing on the long tail of a hype cycle. With virtual production in accelerated growth mode and generative AI now approaching the hype cycle peak, it will be an interesting year to see how the cascade of hype cycles all level out.

Instant is the new norm. A new real-time creative workflow

In the past 12 months, new virtual production tools have been introduced to the market on a seemingly monthly basis. New 3D scanning solutions with technologies like NeRFs and Gaussian Splatting are allowing anyone to upload a basic video scan of a location from their phone into applications like Volinga and to create 3D virtual environments in minutes versus weeks. Markerless tracking solutions like and Theia3D are replacing bulky, complex body suits with standard consumer cameras to create quick 3D character animations. Generative AI tools like Cuebric and are allowing for real-time virtual background creation for instant on set adjustments. A growing number of studios are migrating to hybrid 3D workflows like 2.5D and 3D depth maps for faster scene creation where full 3D isn’t necessary.

Of all these advancements, generative AI for 2D plates seems to be the most adopted workflow as it is the simplest workflow for newcomers to the field to understand, and is often much quicker to create than full 3D environments. Let’s not forget about Runway, Sora and Pika Labs all in a race for creating the studio completely in the cloud. And now Google has entered the race with Google VEO, an update to the original Imagine they announced in 2021. These fully synthetic AI text-to video generators will dramatically change the creative workflow as studios are able to instantly generate 2D video plates as virtual backgrounds and in many cases use generated video directly in their edits without ever going to a studio. And all of this technology progress is making virtual production faster, easier and allowing artists to create content at the speed of thought.

Virtual production 2.0: from science experiment to industry standard

In the same way that Smart TVs made our lives easier by integrating the media player, internet and stereo system all together, virtual production studios will become more commoditised and user friendly over time. This is the natural progression of all great technology — to be so easy a caveman can use it.

The move from complex, independent virtual production systems to more all-in-one solutions has been three years in the making. This shift is making the virtual production industry more accessible to the broader mainstream market. In Geoffery Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm, he talks about the technology adoption lifecycle where innovators and early adopters tend to adopt technologies years ahead of the broad market when it’s still in an experimental stage, however the majority of the market will only adopt new technologies once they are a complete solution. These people, called the “early majority,” are a good indicator of where we are today in the technology adoption lifecycle. They want a durable product that is easy and economical. This is the inflection point we’re at in the industry. We are currently crossing the chasm. 

The compelling business case for virtual production

Last year, virtual production studios in the corporate market saw the most growth year over year, growing 36 per cent and accounting for 28 per cent of all new studios built last year. This year that growth is expected to continue as companies continue to bring more productions in house and upgrade their existing studios. Corporate internal studios that have adopted virtual production reported experiencing an average increase of 56 per cent more output and a 72 per cent increase in time savings compared to their previous production methods. The 100ft LED volume studio for global medical manufacturer Arthrex increased their video output 300 per cent this past year with over 1,000 new videos created in 2023. The elimination of travel and reduction of post-production timelines were cited as the key areas of increased efficiency.

Technology enabled companies are continually increasing the value of their services over their laggard competitors. The big tech market is seeing a 4X increase in growth compared to the legacy media market and as the media industry becomes more and more technology-enabled, it’s searching for new ways to harness that same growth. This is one of the promises virtual production offers, to move the media production industry from a talent-driven service to a tech-enabled platform. As we move from analogue green screens to digital big screens, the shift to virtual production has opened new opportunities for growth in an industry that has seen its share of hard times last year.

We believe that it’s not how big you are, it’s how big you think. The change makers who embrace transformation not just as a strategy but as a habit often end up changing much more than just themselves —they change the market. The winners in this year’s market will certainly be a few of the big tech incumbents and legacy studio players but it will also be a handful of passionate entrepreneurs who are crazy enough to believe that in times of great transformation, passion has a funny way of trumping logic.