Digital pre-visualization a major new tool

Where once directors had to be content with sketched storyboards, digital pre-visualization (aka “pre-viz”) has become a widely accepted tool.

As the technology advances, pre-viz tools and the data they create are increasingly being integrated into the digital pipeline, so much so that pre-viz isn’t just for pre-production anymore.

Pre-viz artists now work on the set, creating new visualizations during shooting, earning the moniker “dur-viz.”

Sean Cushing, executive producer at Pixel Liberation Front (PLF), a leading pre-viz vendor, says dur-viz helps “when you’re on the set and you need to make a quick change. You have a pre-viz artist there constantly trying to help the crew shoot.”

Industrial Light & Magic has a proprietary visualization system that integrates with motion-capture. Pre-viz images are shown on the mo-cap monitors, but the mo-cap character is replaced, in real time, by the actor’s mo-cap performance. This lets the director see how the mo-cap performance fits with the rest of the shot.

Filmmakers who use ILM can even take their pre-viz data to other shops, says the company’s director of research & development, Steve Sullivan. “We can export those scenes into common vendor packages, like Maya, and they’ll have the full 3-D scene, with the animation, camera, textures and images.”

Preview in post

Visualization tools are even making their way into post-production. Post-viz is used when filmmakers want a fast preview of a shot that requires compositing — for example, one with actors against greenscreen, digital set extensions and a motion-capture character.

A visualization company like PLF can take the live-action plates and place the actors in the pre-viz images, allowing editors and directors to make their decisions before all the digital compositing is done.

Ironically, the director of the year’s most digital-intensive hit, “300,” eschewed much computer visualization. Director Zack Snyder worked with Company 3 on test footage for one of the fight scenes. Yet as Stefan Sonnenfeld, president-colorist of Company 3, says “They did not want the pre-viz to restrain the director’s creativity. (Snyder) never looked at the pre-viz.”

At the low end, even low-budget and indie filmmakers can get the benefits of pre-viz with stand-alone software like Antics. Unlike high-end pre-viz, though, a visual-effects company or other vendor might not be able to make use of the resulting animations.

Still, the very fact that there are off-the-shelf pre-viz solutions is further evidence that visualization, whether pre-viz, dur-viz or post-viz, is becoming a standard part of the production pipeline.

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