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‘The UK industry is really ahead of the game right now!’: How virtual production is gaining traction in UK TV production

Universal Pixels' Dan Edmonds talks to TVBEurope about the company's work on major dramas including The Man Who Fell to Earth and Better, and why he believes the UK TV and film industry is embracing the technology

Last year, TVBEurope reported on how Coronation Street became the first continuing drama (or soap) to use virtual production – marking the technology’s move into the mainstream.

The technology had previously been employed most on major blockbusters or big-budget TV series.

But it’s now becoming a go-to workflow for producers who want to use technology on their shows without breaking the bank.

Universal Pixels, whose credits include Good Omens, The Crown, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Sam Mendes’ Empire of the Lightis an award-winning, bespoke video rental company working across live arts, music and ICVFX.

Universal Pixels worked on the Man Who Fell To Earth shoot

The company worked with the producers of BBC drama Better, who were looking for a technical video company with both experience and a proven track record of using virtual production to provide high-end vehicle / driving scene playback.

“We were working with multiple actors, some of whom are non-drivers,” Dan Edmonds, ICVFX account manager at Universal Pixels tells TVBEurope.

“We also had to consider the weather (as we filmed in Yorkshire!) and the time constraints that we were dealing with meant we had to work quickly and efficiently.”

For their virtual production stage, Universal Pixels used ROE LED panels to create three walls and a ceiling, with processing handled with Brompton Technology’s sx40’s and playback via disguise  GX2c media servers, all fully genlocked.

“We have tried and tested this particular solution many times now, and understand both the limits and the advantages of the system,” explains Edmonds. “This is particularly important when it comes to time-critical TV shoots, as it means there will be less change over time. Plus, if the DOP does want to make a change, we can do so easily and be confident in the results.”

The biggest challenge on Better, says Edmonds, was the number of shots needed for a production that hadn’t done any vehicle processing before. “The scenes were actually split over two different directors,” he adds. “This meant that once everyone in the room had become familiar with the workflow and how best to get the shots required, the next day, we had to do so again! However, this was achieved pretty seamlessly and the outcome on screen was great.”

Edmonds believes over the next 12-18 months the industry will see more productions employing virtual productions in different ways, with both big volume stages and LED and projection for background in use. “For example, a smaller LED screen outside of a window is cost-effective and means that instead of a static image, the weather or trees can possess a little movement. The time of day can also change within the shot,” he explains.

left to right: Dan Edmonds and Roly Oliver from Universal Pixels with Teddy Nygh from Fully Focused

“We will see more image-based lighting used for real-time reflections, especially on traditional green screen shoots. As a company at the forefront of investment in technological innovation, we are excited to be involved with new products that can use LED as a traditional light- and not have the issues that can arise with current LED options when it comes to realistic skin tones.”

Next up for Universal Pixels in Amazon’s The Power. The company provided in-camera scenery and reflections for the vehicle shots. “Unfortunately, and as is often the case when it comes to film, streaming and TV, we are unable to talk about the majority of our work until much further down the line,” states Edmonds. “I can, however, say that there are some great TV series and features coming to your screen in the near future. The UK industry is really ahead of the game right now when it comes to producing unforgettable content.”