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How McDonald’s is lovin’ virtual production

How virtual production helped create McDonald's interior and exterior assets - from digital coffee cups on the counter to specific featured items on the menu boards

Visual effects specialist Pixomondo (PXO) has unveiled a proof of concept McDonald’s advert shot entirely using virtual production.

The production used PXO’s Toronto-based LED Volume, a giant LED screen that displays a CG photo-real digital set, which reacts and moves in real time with the camera to act just like a real environment. 

In a collaboration between PXO, Alter Ego, William F. White and Feels Like Home Films, co-directors Matt Manhire and David Whiteson spent nine weeks on the creation of the McDonald’s interior and exterior assets – from digital coffee cups on the counter to specific featured items on the menu boards.

PXO noted that using the LED Volume enabled them to simulate the weather of three entirely different seasons and create sunrise lighting for the entire day. The shoot took one day and utilised a third of the crew and lighting equipment as shooting on location, which would have required a two-day shoot.

“Typically with virtual production we’ve seen a world of fantastical environments, whereas the challenge that we undertook here was to create something completely recognisable that exists in our everyday lives,” said Manhire. “This is far more difficult because the viewer instantly knows what a McDonald’s restaurant looks like. The margin of error is far smaller.

“Ironically the day we showed up to the studio to begin filming there happened to be a snow storm outside,” he added. “David and I laughed about the fact that if we were on location we would’ve been in serious trouble. There would have been significant financial overages to clear the snow and then days or weeks in post cleaning it all up. With virtual production it was all a non-issue.”

“Once we’ve built the restaurant in CG, McDonald’s can reuse that asset forever, eliminating the need to ever go to a real restaurant location again,” said Whiteson. “They just return to the studio and load up the CG environment on the LED Volume. At the push of a button all the artwork and signage in the restaurant instantly turns to French or special promotions, eliminating the need to print posters, rehang them in the space costing precious set time, or heavy post production costs fixing it after the shoot is complete.

“Having 25 years in the post production industry I’ve seen my fair share of problems arise on set that are left for me to fix in post. This approach really can reduce those mistakes to almost zero.”