IBC : A virtual production perspective

By Christina Nowak, Anna Valley director of virtual production

In the three years since the last in-person IBC Show, virtual production has gone from being a new and experimental technique to one that is on the cusp of mass adoption across the media and entertainment sector. And IBC 2022 was perhaps one of the first physical platforms where the industry at large could talk and share knowledge about this new approach to production. Attendees might, therefore, have been surprised to discover that the halls of the RAI weren’t filled with LED volumes and demonstrations – but that doesn’t mean that virtual production wasn’t a dominant theme at the show.

Getting under the hood of virtual production

Pictures of virtual production sets have been splashed across industry magazine covers and social feeds ever since the first episode of The Mandalorian was released. Countless articles, videos and presentations have been produced to introduce this new approach to filmmaking to the wider industry. But only a select few have actually had hands-on experience with virtual production. Now, as more productions look to adopt the technique, and as more VP facilities emerge, it’s time to get under the hood of virtual production. My impression at IBC 2022 was that there was a real appetite amongst attendees to get ‘their teeth stuck into it’ – to share experiences, explore different workflows and understand both the opportunities and the limitations that this evolution of the green screen provides. We’ve progressed from being impressed by the potential of virtual production to delving into the detail at a user level.

Although virtual production is still evolving and can be expensive, IBC 2022 confirmed that it’s more accessible than it’s ever been. But there is still a distinct lack of technical documentation available to support VP workflows. Discussions around standards with organisations like SMPTE are under way, and a variety of other industry players like Netflix are launching initiatives to create the technical foundations needed to support further development ; I expect there will be real progress in this area over the next 12 months and evident at IBC 2023.

But, as I explained in my IABM session on the state of virtual production at the show , virtual production workflows rely on the involvement of the full team – everyone from the director to the vfx supervisor and the art department should contribute to the whole production process from the outset. So, it was great to see a convergence of technical and creative roles attending IBC and discussing VP rather than this being limited to just technical guys on the show floor.

What’s in a name?

Virtual production isn’t limited to applications for TV or film. There was a lot of talk about the metaverse at IBC this year, but there’s still significant division between sectors in media and entertainment. We need to consider how we can welcome gaming and other disciplines into shows like IBC. In fact, I wonder whether the name “International Broadcast Convention” is still appropriate when so many of the attendees and participants don’t do any broadcasting. Perhaps we need to rethink the name of the show to reflect this change in our industry?

With this shift in focus evident at IBC 2022, it was a real shame that the Future Zone was cut from the exhibition. Considering that the Mixed Reality Tech Lab in the Future Zone of IBC 2018 provided the first taste of virtual production for so many, I would have argued that that this was one of the most interesting and important parts of the show – supporting incubators that are going to drive the development of our industry’s future technology.

Expanding networks

The stats reveal that IBC 2022 was significantly smaller than previous events. The question now is whether – based on success of this year – next year’s show will be grander or whether this was the test bed for something different. I, for one, would like to see more convergence between the conference and the exhibition and more opportunities for people attending to interact with speakers. If, as so many people have reported, IBC is to become the networking hub for Europe’s M&E industry, then I’d hope that the organisers would provide opportunities to enable and support this aspect of the convention.

Finally, we can’t ignore the utter chaos at Schiphol this September. Perhaps when we’re considering expanding our networks at next year’s show, we should include transport networks in that equation. And I don’t just mean moving en masse to travelling with Eurostar. It seems to me like there may be a golden opportunity to make the trip to Amsterdam part of the broader experience – maybe instead of booking a canal cruise next year, corporate sponsors could fund coaches from London or other commuting hubs where customers and clients can get a jumpstart on networking before we even cross the channel…but they’d have to bring the bitterballen.

Interested in finding out more about virtual production for your next project? Get in touch.