We usually think of extended reality in terms of display. However, extended reality is also used in the production of media that may or may not be viewed in an immersive way. As various factors make these means of production more popular, the small number of people familiar with virtual production is increasingly in demand.
Full Sail University is mobilizing to meet these needs and bring more value to future students by investing in its own virtual production studio.
Wait, what is virtual production?
To understand the type of virtual production we are talking about, we have to take off the helmet for a minute. After all, a headset isn’t strictly necessary to view or even enter certain immersive environments. We’re talking room-scale VR here.
Early virtual reality experiences predate head-mounted displays and instead used projectors to transform a room into a virtual environment without the aid of a head-mounted display. The best example is the CAVE system appeared in the mid-1990s.
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These systems are difficult to move, in addition to being expensive and complicated. Still, they found use cases in military and corporate training, professional sports training, and film production. As computing and graphic display improved, this same principle was adapted to larger areas with better quality.
The television series The Mandalorian is filmed in a virtual production studio that encloses a set in 21-foot-tall LED screens with a diameter of 75 feet. The system eliminates the need to travel between locations, eliminates weather-related complications, and gives creators unparalleled control over highly believable sets.
It’s the kind of extended reality we’re talking about when we talk about virtual production. So what does Full Sail do? And why?
Full Sails Studio
In November, Full Sail University announced plans to build a virtual production studio on its campus in Winter Park, Florida. The studio, with a budget of over $3 million, is expected to be 16 feet tall and 40 feet wide, with a straight panel 18 feet long.
“We knew this was the next logical step in our 40+ year investment in technology,” Full Sail University Director of Visual Arts Education Rick Ramsey said in a statement shared with AR Post. “Virtual production is the direction the industry is heading in, and we’re proud to bring the future of the entertainment industry to our students today.”
An investment of this magnitude must benefit a large number of people. The staff and administration intend to open the space to students in a variety of programs, including simulation, game design, animation, cinematography, show production, and others. The decision even won the support of community organizations, including the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP).
“As businesses increasingly adopt virtual and augmented reality technology, Full Sail University continues to prove itself as a national leader,” said OEP CEO Tim Giuliani. “Full Sail’s critical investment in our region’s digital infrastructure will act as a beacon to attract, house and foster the growth of professional productions right here in Orlando.”
See also: One of the biggest VR/AR centers in America is…Orlando?
Why now and then
Despite the size of the investment, the virtual production studio was an easy sell, according to Ramsey. The time-saving pitch process was spent on research.
“From the moment it was proposed to our leaders, they supported the adoption of this new technology for our campus,” Ramsey said AR Post. “Although the decision was not long in coming, our teams conducted extensive research to ensure that we created a state-of-the-art facility that would meet the needs of our students, as well as professional productions. ”
Perhaps surprisingly, the pandemic had little influence on the decision – or at least, little direct influence. The studio is being built due to industry demand, which is currently fueled by COVID-19. The Mandalorian, specifically cited by Ramsey, was able to continue production during the pandemic in part because virtual production facilitates small in-person production teams.
“We make it a point to listen to industry, employers, alumni and our students,” said Ramsey. “As we kept our finger on the pulse of these bands, it was obvious that by creating our own virtual production studio, we would be able to better serve these bands now and in the future.”
Finally, although the studio’s primary focus is education, the source said the university plans to use the studio to create content. Working with production companies interested in using the technology could create unique networking and hands-on opportunities for students.
“We have had several offers to collaborate with outside production companies to produce TV series and feature films, many of which are still under consideration. Above all, we will focus on academics,” said Ramsey. “Our first priority is to use the facility to create ‘real life’ production experiences for our degree programs that teach these disciplines.”
An exciting cinematic future
Virtual production is coming, and Full Sail may be the first university to prepare its students for this future. We must remember that this does not just benefit university students: we all stand to benefit from the content created by the graduates of these programs.