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The Realtime Filmmaking Revolution

Making movies the old way – setting up scenes and having actors collaborate in front of the camera – is likely to not be the model for future productions. The need to be socially separated and spiralling production costs make movies a hugely expensive and fraught business, and COVID might just be the catalyst to change it.

Many production companies are now looking to what is termed ‘realtime’ film making as a technological and economic alternative to creating highly detailed and expensive sets. Already, the major production companies behind both The Mandalorian and The Lion King have kicked things up a notch by using technology to make the film process better and cheaper at the same time.

In 2016 the Unity Demo team released the impressive Adam – a short film made and rendered entirely in Unity – and has gone to develop further episodes from there. Using technologies such as LED walls and render pipelines, film makers are increasingly using technology to not only make the process quicker, but better too.

Unlike the traditional ‘handoff’ or ‘sequential’ approach to filmmaking, working in real-time means everyone iterates together from the beginning of the movie onwards, and moves continually toward the final frame. Unity have been focusing on this kind of technology for some time now and with major production companies taking it up, traditional film making may actually become quite niche.

Key to Realtime filmmaking is the use of technology to modify different aspects such as lighting and environmental conditions using a series of LED walls, allowing set changes and special scenes to be loaded quickly. This means that shooting can continue in real time rather than having to wait for physical elements to be put in place. In this way, the film making becomes a linear process that isn’t reliant on outside factors.

The technology used in Realtime filmmaking has its roots in gaming, and that is where this kind of technology has been used for years. Think of all the games that you have played, with their gorgeous settings and vibrant visuals; those are all rendered in real time, with actually only a small portion of the game – the part that you are playing – being in existence. Now put that same technology behind an actor and you can create all the exotic places that you need for your film, and with a depth and clarity that makes them seem like physical entities. The mountain now really does come to Mohammed!!

Computing power has come to the rescue, and with content creation being handled by Unity, lush content is easy to design and render in real time. With graphic designers using the Unity engine to become increasingly output orientated, there is literally nothing that cannot be created in 3D and rendered to the extent where it actually looks real, regardless of how close you get.

It used to be that filmmaking was a long and protracted process with a lot of secondary activity that revolved around short periods of actually filming, dictated by the availability of real areas or the building of scenes on huge sound stages. But now that Realtime filmmaking is firmly established, a director is no longer at the mercy of the weather, location availability, scene builder timescales and, increasingly, petulant actors. All thanks to Unity!