How much does Virtual Production cost?

Written by Rob Nutter

The infamous ‘Oprah-Obama’ fireside chat, a Virtual Production popular thanks to its unique blend of live input and greenscreen-induced Augmented Reality.

The infamous ‘Oprah-Obama’ fireside chat, a Virtual Production popular thanks to its unique blend of live input and greenscreen-induced Augmented Reality.

After conducting some research, we found that the most common question surrounding Virtual Production is also the most sensible one: ‘How much does Virtual Production cost?’. This is like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Each and every production is going to be different and have its own, entirely unique set of requirements to meet and overcome. It’s with this in mind that I’m prefacing this post with a fairly important disclaimer; if you want accurate and detailed costing information, approach a professional studio or production partner…like us.

“A blog post can not and should not inform a serious budget.”

However, with that said this has been created to aid in understanding the evolutionary world of Virtual Production, as well as what goes into the decision making behind the big price tags you’ll sometimes come across. This blog should serve mainly as an insight to the costing of green screen virtual production, since we have the most experience and knowledge in this field.

What Goes Into Virtual Production

Virtual Production comes in all shapes and sizes, and this is where budgeting can become complicated…and costly, be it XR or greenscreen; both will require essentially the same costing considerations.

Behind the scenes of a greenscreen production - How much does virtual production cost?

Personnel: The magic of Virtual Production comes in the form of three additional departments. Industry rates can vary between £250 and £600 a day for these roles, so finding the right people for the job is incredibly important.

  • VFX engineer/s are essentially Virtual Production-specific on-site technicians. They’ll be the ones looking after your greenscreen/XR modules and ensuring it all gets keyed, comped, and output as it should be.
  • The VFX artist is the person building and in some cases designing your stage, studio or environment and quite literally ‘building the world’ your actors (or ‘talent’) will be placed into. It’s worth noting that a VFX artist/designer is quite different to a CAD designer and they are not interchangeable roles.
  • The VFX supervisor ensures the Virtual element of production is understood and planned around by crew, talent and client during pre-production. They’ll be putting together and overseeing the technological and creative aspects of the Virtual Production shoot itself as well as quality checking any output with broadcast engineers and stakeholders.

World design: On the subject of personnel costs, this is a process straight out of the games industry and will usually include a back-and-forth process between the Production Manager, lighting designer (unless XR), VFX team and the client. It involves designing (and eventually building) how you want the virtual space to actually look and feel. The iterative process itself will last at least several weeks on any project and the build process possibly more time beyond that, so it’s always worth budgeting accordingly.

Visual example of an XR Studio

It can be surprising how believable an XR studio set can be if done properly.

Hardware: You have two choices. I will not go into detail about their differences in this post, but you can read a brief rundown of them here. Both workstreams have significantly different hardware requirements:

  • XR (Extended Reality or ‘Volumetric’): The Mandalorian is pretty…but expensive. There are no two ways of cutting it. Using state-of-the-art software and display technology that requires genlocking (making everything work in sync) is always going to dent the wallet and even the smallest shoots will require a strong budget. Costs can vary widely for XR but expect to pay anything from £15,000 to £10,000,000 to hire or buy.
An example of XR from the set of the TV series 'The Mandalorian'​

Large circular sets of nothing but LED; XR may be the future, but it can also prove cost-prohibitive and complicated to set up.

  • Greenscreen: The more cost effective and traditional option which also happens to be surprisingly simple to set up. Greenscreen gives good output and scales better than XR both technically and financially, which can make it more versatile. Just bear in mind that greenscreen does require additional lighting, so depending on your production quality this will need to be hired or purchased.
  • Processing: Virtual production in general requires a lot of processing power. A photo-realistic 3D still image can take around an hour to render and you’re asking for that to happen a minimum of 30 times per SECOND in the case of Virtual Production. Modern game engine technology (as below) and optimisation will get you halfway there, but the rest needs to be brute-forced through a powerful workstation computer; this can be a large expenditure.

Miscellaneous: Virtual Production also requires a lot of additional items you may not immediately realise you need. This can include:

  • Dedicated Vision Mixing: Unless you’re using a downstream workflow with rendered content being direct output, you’ll need to consider where it fits into your vision mix structure.
  • Graphics server: Most pieces of Virtual Production software can render graphics. However, it’s generally rudimentary at best when compared with a dedicated setup and I would not recommend it.
  • Additional personnel: The wonderful thing about 3D graphics is that you never quite know when something will need changing. Come crunch, having additional artists or engineers may prove vital and can significantly add to your overhead. Don’t normally change the set halfway into a shoot? You do now, I guarantee it.

 

No set too large, no remote contribution too far. Virtual production takes Virtual Events to the next level no matter how you wish you implement it.

Virtual Production is a wonderful component for any production company or individual to add to their repertoire. Just make sure you understand the costs as it can vary dramatically due to the amount of technology involved. If you’re a studio, find the right suppliers and crew for the job. If you’re an individual starting out or looking at expanding your own offering, I would just say know your target production quality and find the right value point for you, as there is an ever-growing indie scene that is innovating and cutting costs as they go.

If, however, this seems like a lot to consider then why not give us a call? We’re happy to provide the content, pipeline and production required for a successful Virtual Production project or simply to consult on such things if required. Our fully remote cloud-based virtual production system enables us to shoot and render anywhere, anytime and at any scale at a fraction of the cost of a more conventional ‘ground-based’ virtual production.

Until next time, keep bleeding that edge.

If you would like to see a demonstration of how Beyond works or have more questions you would like answered on the topic of Virtual Production please click here to get in touch.

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