Ready Set Studios, overcoming filming barriers with virtual tech

Nils Pauwels, CEO of Ready Set Studios (RSS), speaks to the transformative power of virtual production in an industry increasingly defined by its adaptability and innovation. RSS was conceived amid the pandemic, a time when traditional filming was challenged by lockdowns and travel restrictions. It became apparent that a new approach was necessary, one that could transcend the limitations imposed by the global crisis. Ready Set Studios emerged as a response to these industry upheavals, offering a virtual production space that marries technological advancement with creative expression.

 

RSS, under Pauwels’ leadership, has been a part of a diverse array of projects, from major streaming service productions to independent films, commercial campaigns, and music videos. The studio’s expertise in in-camera VFX (ICVFX) has positioned them as a unique and pioneering force in the realm of virtual production. This approach, which blends 3D scenes with live-action footage on set, demands a symphony of planning, communication, and tech prowess, enabling a seamless integration of digital and physical realms.

Looking forward, Pauwels discusses the evolving landscape of virtual production and its broader impact on the audiovisual industry. With LED technology improving, integration with camera and lighting systems becoming more sophisticated, and the potential application of AI on the horizon, the next five years look to be a period of significant transformation. As virtual production becomes more accessible and cost-effective, Pauwels and Ready Set Studios are at the forefront, not just adapting to changes but actively shaping the future of filmmaking.

 

When was Ready Set Studios born and why? How was the kick-off for this virtual production studio?

The conception of RSS lies right in the middle of the corona period. Two of the founders were complaining about the current state of the (Dutch) film market. How everyone was always shooting at the same, scarce locations, how it was impossible to travel and how much waste we were producing as a whole.

At the same time two others were discussing Virtual Production options and exploring ideas. When it all finally came together, RSS was born!

 

In which works has Ready Set Studios participated until now?

We have worked for large streamers, independent (indie)( filmmakers, creative agencies, commercial production companies and music video clips. Even a few live-events! Even though our core passion lies in feature films and series, we just love it when “it all comes together” and we have helped to create something beautiful from scratch. Whether that’s longform or a commercial doesn’t matter anymore at that point.

 

How has virtual production evolved at Ready Set Studios since its inception, and what key technological advancements have been the most influential?

VP is such a crazy fast moving industry that everything you do can be out of fashion or even obsolete the next day, or even faster. We are proud that we not only have kept standing through difficult times, but also have done continuous R&D in our own volume. We are beta testing for several large companies and softwares, trailblazing for studios all over the world and allowing workflows and pipelines to standardise.

 

Can you explain the core principles of In-Camera VFX technology and how it’s implemented in your productions?

First of all, it’s important to understand that there is a big distinction between VP and ICVFX . Where VP is the process where the physical and the digital world meet, ICVFX is only one of the parts described as VP.  In-camera VFX (ICVFX) means adding effects while filming, not after. In today’s making process, it usually involves creating 3D scenes on big screens and filming actors and props in front of them on a real set. To make this all happen smoothly requires meticulous planning and a lot of communication as well as technological ingenuity. Whilst RSS is a studio that only does ICVFX, we tend to be involved from the earliest of stages, sometimes even the conception of an idea, to implement the workflow into the whole production. This can be from a Productions Design standpoint, or VFX standpoint for example.

 

Which are ICVFX’s benefits and how does it impact in production pipelines or / and in the film industry, according to your point of view?

There are many benefits to using ICVF. IBL, re-usability of backgrounds, shortened post-production time, guaranteed consistency and on set collaboration and creativity to name a few. The biggest change in production pipelines is that everyone needs to make decisions beforehand that would traditionally happen later in the process. At the same time there is a similar shift in cashflow and the spending process. Either of these can be quite scary but when we are all on set, everyone can see the results in-camera and make (creative) adjustments on set whilst collaborating with other HOD’s, its all worth it!

 

What are the most significant challenges the studio faces in virtual production, and how does Ready Set Studios address these challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is managing expectations. VP is not the holy grail. It is a tool in your toolbox. A very powerful tool that is, but it should be treated as such. It will be tough to film a whole film or series in VP, but it can offer a solution to something that would otherwise have been very difficult to produce.

 

In your opinion and experience, has the introduction of virtual production techniques changed the broader landscape of audiovisual production?

Absolutely. On a technical level first of all. The companies traditionally offering AV solutions are now submerged in technical filmmaking terms and had to do a crash course in understanding our lingo. At the same time all manufacturers in the chain have upped their game in their product delivery allowing for smoother transitions into the VP landscape.

But it has also changed how anyone involved in a production looks at challenges in a script or treatment. With an extra tool in your toolbox and in the back of your mind, it is easier to think of solutions and the money shot can be achievable for everyone now.

 

How does virtual production affect the collaboration between directors, cinematographers, and visual effects teams?

The collaboration between all HOD’s will be intensified in pre-production as well as in on set production. The ability to work closely together with all teams means that the creativity is in fact with all the right people to ensure the best possible outcome. Anyone on set can now see the final result, so Productions Design can make adjustments, but so can VAD and make-up. All in conjunction with the DoP and Director.

 

What emerging technologies do you believe will have the most significant impact on virtual production in the next five years?

LED will become better, adding more colours to the traditional RGB. Integration of LED, Lighting and camera with each other and in softwares like unreal engine will only get better. And dare I mention AI?

 

What skills and knowledge are essential for professionals looking to specialise in virtual production?

There are a lot of new skills that are now on set, from Game engines to LED technicians. Most important is to understand how everything works together and find your own niche in that chain, or have the helicopter overview that’s needed to be a supervisor for example.

 

How has the client’s understanding and expectations of virtual production evolved, and how does Ready Set Studios manage these expectations?

When we first started VP as a whole, ICVFX in specific were greatly unknown amongst the Dutch industry professionals. We have done countless demonstrations and educational tours and see that now filmmakers in the broadest sense of the word know who to call and when to call us. It is not uncommon we are involved from the scriptwriting stage onwards or sometimes even earlier in a project. Also, for the commercial projects we are often involved in the conception of an idea, co-working on treatments and so on. With understanding the technology comes understanding of expectations, so all in all, we are going the right direction!

 

Is virtual production becoming more accessible and cost-effective for smaller productions? If so, how?

Yes, it is democratising more and more. The days that LED volumes were only massive ones used for the 1% of filmmaking are behind us. More and more smaller volumes are popping up allowing smaller budget productions to leverage the technology for their productions.

 

From your experience, what has been the most groundbreaking project or application of virtual production technology at Ready Set Studios?

We just finished a project where VP was the perfect solution. A longform timepiece taking place in the same set at various times. The entire studio was a practical set with reflective glass and smoke everywhere. The digital backdrop provided the necessary changes between the time periods and it all blended perfectly in with each other. Really a project to keep an eye on.

 

What projects are Ready Set Studios preparing for a near future?

We are lucky to be involved in several large projects at the moment. Reaching from a large pop-up stage in Holland to productions abroad. As well as several bigger and smaller shoots in our permanent studio in Amsterdam. Really exciting times to be VP pioneers in the early adaptation phase of this filmmaking technique.

 

About Ready Set Studios

Launched in March 2022 by award-winning Dutch filmmakers, visual effects professionals and creative technologists, ReadySet Studios is considered the most advanced, full-service LED virtual production facility in the Netherlands.

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