Netflix’s state of the art Virtual Production Volume

Virtual Production has been expanding in recent years. Source: Roger Bolton (via Flickr).

By Elie Gould | Technology Editor

Avatar the Last Airbender is a much-beloved TV show, with many remembering it with fond memories from their childhood and its early appearance as a Saturday morning cartoon.

After a live-action movie remake that faced widespread criticism, many fans were sceptical when Netflix raised their hand, wanting a shot at possible glory.

Animation is a challenging medium to translate into live-action, especially when elemental powers are involved. To a number of fans, this was one of the many ways in which M. Night Shyamalan’s movie remake fell short. It was suggested that the animations of the fire, water, air, and earth were ‘out of place’ with the actors’ martial art actions, which were meant to cause said animations feeling forced and unnatural.

This being said, there have been some hopeful rumours coming from the new Netflix set. Photos from the scene show a custom-built Virtual Production Volume.

Before exploring what impacts this new set may have, it’s important to understand what is meant by the term ‘Virtual Volume Production’. ‘Virtual Production’ accumulates decades in software advances, uniting a specially constructed curved LED wall and ceiling. Together it is known as The Volume. This Volume will envelop actors in a virtual display while also ensuring that the actors are lit with the correct natural light. In Virtual Production, the screen isn’t just the screen; it is also the lights.

Furthermore, an ordinary digital backdrop would be unconvincing as soon as you move the camera.

However, thanks to the Unreal Engine, software popularised by Fortnite and Epic Games, the virtual environments now exist within an immediately editable and relatively
user-friendly program. This means that not only FX artists can use the program, but the director and crew on set can also be a part of this process. Making it accessible for all on-site.

This is not the first time that a virtual set has been created.

Back in 2019, the Mandalorian was released, receiving praise for its immersive storytelling and impressive virtual design. The series was able to come together thanks to
Virtual Production. Disney was the first production studio to master this practice, and now Netflix hopes to follow suit.

In fact, the direct comparison of the sets shows us that Netflix’s Virtual Production Volume is more extensive than Disney’s. The Mandalorian’s is 75 feet across, 20 feet high. In comparison, ATLA’s is 84 feet across and 28 feet tall.

This Volume doesn’t only show that the streaming giant is beginning to move toward virtual sets, but that it plans for ‘Avatar’ to become one of, if not the, most expensive Netflix show. To many in the industry, this acts as a statement from Netflix that they hope this new series will be their challenger to the success of the Mandalorian.

Science and Technology

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