A fast and flexible Previs and Techvis tool for complex sets and shoots
‘Beneath’ is a claustrophobic thriller with all the action being centred on a single actress inside a mini-submersible, and Gene Fallaize (Director) had spent two years and been through two production designers trying to finalise what needed to be built so that his team could deliver the creative vision. Then he met Moviestorm with their new low cost and easy-to-use VR-based film, TV and video production previs platform called FirstStage.
Problem - How to construct a mini-sub set prop, with an interior that fulfilled the script choreography requirements, including being fully immersed in water, but with removable panels to provide access for the best camera shots.
Solution - Build it to scale in VR using FirstStage, where the pre-production team could collaborate in real-time to block out scenes and test potential camera positions as if on set.
Process - Iteratively built wholly in FirstStage by Moviestorm, with pre-production team reviews via Zoom. Then a full-day live previs session with the Director and Producer (and other team members watching live via Zoom) in Moviestorm’s VR studio, before the export and distribution of the session outcomes.
Outcomes and additional benefits - Timed scene choreography tests for the Director, camera shots for DoP, measurements and set construction images for the Production Designer, and lighting tests.
Plus further live real-time collaborative previs sessions planned in the Moviestorm studio with Director and lead actress to run through critical scenes in preparation for production.
Before Gene met Moviestorm at the Media Production and Technology Show in mid-May 2022 at Olympia, London, Gene was struggling to finalise and communicate his production design. His last attempt was a rudimentary cardboard model, but that did not really allow him to fully understand how it could support the script’s vision, or whether there would need to be practical creative compromises.
When presented with the size, camera shots and construction issues, Andrew Kennedy (MD, Moviestorm) explained how he had used FirstStage to explore camera angles and set design for the GM Dr Evil advert at this year’s Superbowl. He even used it to design the space for their small show stand to support two demo areas and good sight lines.
Gene was hopeful but sceptical, and agreed to contact Moviestorm after his trip to Cannes, whereupon Moviestorm confirmed what FirstStage could do and Gene shared the basic dimensions and the mood board, and an introductory Zoom was set up for 1st June.
In preparation for that, Moviestorm quickly modelled a basic Sub V1 in FirstStage to demonstrate what could be done, and Gene soon discovered that it could do a whole lot more than he first envisaged, so a second Zoom call was arranged for 13th June to allow the full production team to see the power of the tool.
Sub V1 quickly sketched to demonstrate FirstStage's potential
With a signed agreement in place for the required Previs service, Gene also shared the moodboard, storyboard and script enabling Moviestorm to make further improvements to the model ready for the call.
After input from the Producer and DoP, further set design improvements were made and images shared in preparation for a live previs session in the Moviestorm studio at the end of June with Gene and Lauren Metcalfe (Producer).
“Those final few images you sent look absolutely fantastic - I’ve had this in my head for almost 3 years and FINALLY you’ve been the first to make it come to life! I’m delighted with this, and cannot wait to get “into it” on 27th!”
Gene Fallaize, Director
Fore and aft shots of the Sub V2
The Studio Session
The focus for the session was to check some critical scenes, such as the stretch dimensions between the hatch handle and the joystick, and the timings for action scenes.
But when immersed into virtual reality on set, and with an understanding of what the tool could do, many other scenes were able to be checked, explored, and planned.
“You really are not prepared for how real working in VR is. It may be a 3d rendered world, but with free movement and the ability to work productively with your team, you can suddenly see a whole host of opportunities and benefits.”
Gene Fallaize, Director
Gene and Lauren could see each other within the scene, with their head and hands represented by their tracked VR headset and controllers, and were able to perform their production roles virtually.
FirstStage allows remote users to work as if there were in the same virtual space; they can talk to each other and see what each is doing.
So during the session, Moviestorm were able to quickly 3d sketch props to add to the set whilst Gene continued to explore scenes, and then Lauren could enter the scene and use puppet motion capture to act out the action whilst Gene filmed her using the virtual cameras.
The team could experiment with most of what they expected to do on set, from set design and lighting, through to choreography and performance, and camerawork.
Such virtual freedom was an eye opener, and Gene found himself finding shots that had not been considered in the storyboard. What is more, it became clear that FirstStage has the potential to be a creative sandpit from the earliest script ideas, delivering storyboard images (and video) that could constantly be swapped out as and when changes were made, all the way into production.
After a long and productive day, Moviestorm were left to gather up and send out the required outcomes.
As with any session, from their perspective they also had lots of helpful feedback that could help influence the tool’s development, including a small wishlist of features from Gene that will now be available for their next live previs session.
Gene is a FirstStage convert, so much so that not only will the team be using it more before production of Beneath starts, he envisages using it for his productions in the future.
“We’re thrilled with the results of the VR day, and it has given us all so much information to work with. You’re a true partner in making this come to life, for which I’m extremely grateful.”
Gene Fallaize, Director
More to come ...
This is not the end of the story.
FirstStage can be used right up to and into production to help explore and solve issues. The next planned session is a live blocking and rehearsal session of the full script, with the Director, Producer and lead actress all sharing the same VR space in real time. With all the scenes blocked and recorded in FirstStage, the DoP will be able to start exploring any practical and possible shots and delivering a shot list
And subject to a production green light, we'll be able to share the images and video that have come out of the out of the FirstStage previs sessions