The Transformative Impact of Sharing in the Virtual Production Community

I am a passionate advocate for innovation with a deep motivation to achieve a better understanding of the place Virtual Production holds in the current Broadcast and Film landscape. Conversations about this new way of content creation are inspiring and educational. I have visited many conferences and symposiums, experienced presentations delivered by driven speakers, and I’ve always walked away with a sense of enlightenment and enthusiasm. Every discussion re-affirms my belief that tech-driven innovation has indeed added value to the way we work.  

As a co-founder of a VP studio, I have engaged in conversations with a wide variety of industry professionals about the virtues Virtual Production can bring to their projects. A lot of these conversations seem to hinge around the same question: how can I use it effectively? Can I do this? Why do I need to do that? These are all justified questions, but I can’t help thinking that we should be past these discussion points by now. Shouldn’t the conversation hinge around the practicalities of the project itself rather than explaining why a tracked camera needs real time content and why it’s vital that we calibrate the lens and provide for colour testing prior to the actual shoot? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these conversations, but it did lead me to the realisation that we ought to engage more in presenting known best practices within the industry. 

With a lot of things in life, the compelling urge to act on a half decent thought led me to march into the office one day in October 2023 and, channelling my inner cheerleader, boldly proclaim ‘’We should open our doors and share our knowledge to our industry’’. To my amazement all my associates agreed and in no time, I had convinced my colleagues and our vendors that we would indeed do just that. Little did I know what I was getting myself into, but I would soon find out. 

I didn’t want to create a ‘’look how good we are’’ event.  Instead, it needed to be as centre of house as it could be and provide information from all possible angles rather than just a showcase for us. The conversation I wanted to create, needed to serve as a platform for knowledge exchange and collaboration where practitioners, technologists, and creatives could come together and share insights and experiences. If we were going to do this, it needed to transcend the confines of the technology alone and focus on the workflow and the people behind it more than anything else. 

The aim should be to provide an answer to the question: What does a VP-shoot need to have a successful outcome? 

The tech? Sure, that’s a given.  

The right people in the room? Well… yeah there is that. 

But more importantly, in my opinion, we as innovators need to know what the artists coming into our studio want and expect from the technological innovations. What can we learn from them so that we, collectively, can get better results? 

Anyone who’s ever organised a conference will react the same way when confronted with the enthusiasm of a first timer. 

First: ‘’That’s a great idea!’’

That is swiftly followed by ‘’It’s a lot of work,’’ followed by a couple of bleeps to end on a positive again ‘’But a great idea!’’

For the purpose of this write up let’s just focus on the first and last parts. We can always share the challenges and headaches that come with organising a ‘’get together’’ on one of our next ‘’ get togethers.’’

Credit where it is due, and this one goes out to Ash Nehru and his infamous quote: ‘’let’s make the pie bigger!’’ It’s a line that’s been lingering in the back of my mind. What does that mean? Should we give away our trade secrets that we’ve amassed with nights of blood, sweat, and mostly tears? Surely not? That can’t be right? And yet, there’s truth to the premise that sharing knowledge will make an industry grow. 

Let’s break that down. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of Broadcast and Cinema, technological advancements have continuously redefined the way stories are told and visualized. 

Virtual production has rapidly emerged as a groundbreaking innovation, presenting content creators with clever opportunities to enable creative visions beyond the infinite green surrounding they have been using over the past few decades. 

In an era marked by rapid technological advancement workflows like ICVFX and XR emerge as a revolutionary model for a tech-driven change that reshapes traditional filmmaking processes. From pre-visualization to post-production, the integration of virtual elements offers unprecedented creative freedom and efficiency. 

As a content creator immersed in the digital and virtual world, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of technology on the creative process. Through my own experiences and encounters with virtual production, from its early days to where we are today, I have come to appreciate the nuances and complexities inherent in this emerging field.

However, I’ve also witnessed how hard it is to make change acceptable and overcome the initial scepticism towards these new technologies. 

Innovation presents challenges and complexities that would benefit from a collective effort to navigate effectively and more important, successfully.  With dialogue and interaction, the conversation can turn into a catalyst for innovation and speed up the process of guiding the industry towards new frontiers of storytelling and visual expression. 

Otherwise put: Make the pie bigger. 

Our team all agreed that we would organise a conference that would shine a spotlight on the various facets of Virtual Production, and we were going to have to include professionals outside of our own house. If we were going to go through the effort of bringing this together and explaining what it is we do, we needed all the help we could get. 

One of the benefits of being a member of the ‘’band of enthusiasts’’ living, breathing, and working on a very thin bleeding edge of tech-based innovation, is that you get to be part of small pockets of industry communities. 

The evolution of these communities has been a transformative phenomenon. Beginning with the early online forums and chat rooms, these communities have grown exponentially in size and complexity. The rapid rise of social media platforms has further propelled this evolution, providing creators with new tools and platforms to collaborate, exchange thoughts and ideas and share our work, bringing meaningful feedback on how and where to improve. As a result, virtual production communities have become hubs of creativity, innovation, and connectivity, where individuals from diverse backgrounds can come together to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects, and build relationships. 

I am convinced that it’s thanks to those communities that finding the right people made for a very easy process when looking for speakers and contributors. I’m grateful for each speaker and guest that has instantly agreed to be a part of this event irrespective of whether they were direct competition or would soon be. I’ll circle back to this point later. 

I must be honest and admit that the time between its conception and the actual conference passed in a blur. Every day a new challenge emerged, details that I hadn’t even thought would matter, surfaced as insurmountable obstacles. 

We had the speakers in the bag, what else could we possibly need?

Turns out: a lot. 

There’s marketing, social media pushes, logistics, room layout, A/V needs, catering, dairy or non-dairy and of course the beating heart of it all: the content of the sessions. 

Lesson 1: surround yourself with people you trust and refrain from micro-managing.

We had a fantastic team in our landlords, AED studios, who went  above and beyond to help us bring this together and took those logistics out of my hands. 

Lesson 2: call upon your friends and colleagues for advice. At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I relied on the guidance of industry friends on both sides of the pond to offer me guidance and advice in this whole endeavour. 

And when those same friends then ask to share my experience in a write-up, how could I refuse? 

So, what have we learned? 

Let’s go back to Ash’s call to action from all those years ago and answer the questions that I’ve asked myself in response to that statement. 

Why do we feel the need to share our knowledge even before we’ve reached our goals and targets? Is it not an act of reckless self-destruction, after all we’ve worked so hard to gather this knowledge, haven’t even properly monetized on that and now we’re sharing it for free? 

That’s one way to look at it but there’s another way. 

Conferences provide valuable opportunities for networking and building relationships with other professionals in our industry. Collaborations and partnerships can arise from these connections, leading to mutually beneficial projects and expanding our reach within the industry.  From directors and producers to visual effects artists and technology developers, these events encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. By fostering a collaborative discussion, conferences create the possibility of laying the foundation for a more holistic approach to virtual production, ensuring that every aspect of filmmaking seamlessly integrates into the virtual workflow. 

Bringing together professionals from different sectors of the industry encourages cross-sector collaboration.      

The relationships formed during these sharing moments, and the communities that stem from them, have often led to the development of groundbreaking applications and techniques that continue to shape the future of the industry.  On those rare occasions where a bunch of likeminded people are brought together by a shared passion, the moment itself can act as an incubator for innovation, sparking creativity and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

For example, collaboration between filmmakers and technology developers can result in the creation of tools specifically designed to meet the evolving needs of virtual production. Technological applications that focus on data gathering for tracking and calibration have surfaced as an indispensable part of the VP chain where maybe in its initial conception that wasn’t their main focal point. And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s quite possible that scriptwriters, directors, and DOP’s have changed the way they approach certain scenes and sequences as they allow themselves to be guided by the technological advancements made by our communities. The left hand feeds the right hand or whatever the more accurate description would fit but the point is that conversations and collaborations drive us all forward and as we continue to do so it’s imperative that we continue to foster a culture of sharing ensuring that our community remains at the forefront of innovation and creativity. 

Exposure to cutting-edge technologies, success stories, and collaborative projects can motivate industry professionals to experiment and explore new avenues within their field of expertise. Presenting successful Virtual Production projects and case studies during conferences not only inspires but also provides practical insights into the strategies that led to success. This encouragement fosters a culture of innovation within the industry and contributes to the growth of a dynamic and forward-thinking industry that is unafraid to embrace change.

By sharing your expertise at conferences like ours or indeed your own conference that you have been planning to organise but haven’t yet, you have the chance to establish yourself as an industry authority and gain recognition for your knowledge and experience. 

This enhanced reputation can attract more clients who seek your expertise and trust your capabilities. 

There’s something to be said about the fact that transparency and openness comes with a certain degree of vulnerability. 

Sharing your hard-earned knowledge with the industry does not necessarily dilute your position; instead, it can enhance your professional standing and contribute to your long-term success in several ways. While there may be concerns about potential competition from your co-speakers and attendees who apply the knowledge themselves, the benefits of sharing knowledge often outweigh these concerns and can build trust with clients. 

When clients perceive you as someone willing to share valuable insights, they may be more likely to choose you for your honesty and commitment. 

Of course there are challenges other than logistics and making sure there’s a full house when you organise your own conference.  

Where there’s open collaboration, you’ll often see a blurred line between individual and collective ownership come into existence. There aren’t really any standardized protocols in place for safeguarding intellectual property rights and credit distribution and this might potentially limit our ability to contribute or showcase our work on these conferences. The boundless reach of our online communities can make it difficult to monitor the distribution of shared resources which could lead to misuse and unauthorized access. 

I truly believe that aside from growing together in these communities we should also bear the responsibility of sustaining a productive and inclusive environment in which we can all continue to share. A collective effort to address these challenges will help to champion the culture of respect, collaboration, and innovation after all the knowledge gained from conferences enables professionals to optimize their workflows, making the process more efficient which in turn could lead to a more cost-effective approach. 

And ultimately this efficiency will allow for the allocation of resources towards enhancing the creative aspects of content creation.

As a content creator you are, or should be, continuously evolving and incorporating the latest advancements into your work, positioning yourself as an indispensable resource for those who want to stay ahead in the rapidly changing landscape. By actively participating in knowledge-sharing events you have the invaluable opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning and staying abreast of industry developments. This adaptability positions you as someone who is not only knowledgeable but also forward-thinking, which can be attractive to potential clients and collaborators. 

In essence, sharing knowledge can be a powerful strategy for career growth and industry influence, provided it is coupled with a strategic approach to showcase your unique value and foster collaborative relationships within the industry.

A last way to look at the answer to the question ‘’why me?’’ is that there’s a whole generation of young content creators that are coming of age in this technological revolution and that one day could be your client, colleague or even teacher. Sharing our knowledge with those that come after us isn’t just an act of kindness, it’s almost driven by a sense of duty and responsibility to the reasons that we’re part of this technological revolution.

Agreed, duty doesn’t pay the bills, but I firmly believe that it contributes to it. 

Organizing conferences focused on what you’re passionate about is not merely an act of showcasing technological advancements; it is a commitment to the growth and evolution of that same industry. The positive impact of such events is far-reaching, from knowledge sharing and global standardization to inspiring innovation and fostering collaboration. 

Looking back at our recent conference, I am struck by the impact it has had on both myself, my partners, colleagues and potentially many of our attendees. What began as a spur of the moment thing has been nothing short of an eye opener. It was inspiring to see so many professionals engaging in those conversations that we had envisioned when we started this journey and the whole experience has left an indelible mark on my understanding of content creation in the Virtual Production era. 

As I reflect on the impact of the conference, I am filled with a sense of hope and possibility for the role that Virtual Production will keep playing in filmmaking. The knowledge and insights gained from this event have not only expanded my understanding of virtual production but have also inspired me to push the boundaries of storytelling in new and innovative ways. Armed with a newfound sense of purpose and community, I find myself eager to embark on the next chapter of my own journey as a content creator, guided by the lessons learned and connections forged at this and, hopefully, future events.

As the film industry continues to embrace virtual production, conversations like the one we’ve just had stand as beacons of enlightenment, guiding professionals towards a future where creativity knows no bounds. By uniting the community through shared knowledge, we pave the way for a landscape that is not only technologically advanced but also artistically enriched which will be to the benefit of all who work in it.

Looking towards the future, I am filled with excitement and optimism for the possibilities that lie ahead, knowing that together, we can continue to push the boundaries of storytelling and shape the future of Virtual Broadcast and Film creation for generations to come.

And that’s the pie. 

Michael Al-Far
Creative Director of Malfmedia
Co-founder of Virtual Innovation Partners
Chapter co-founder, frame:work europe