Transforming Filmmaking: The Impact of Virtual Production and Pro Data

The next evolution of digital production relies heavily on fast media. On Fathead, filmed at Amazon Studios, Pro Data delivered high-speed collaborative access to external storage, allowing filmmakers to make real-time decisions in a next-generation virtual production environment.

  • The first film shot on the largest LED Volume Stage in North America
  • 2023 NAACP Image Awards Nominated Outstanding Short Film (Live Action)
  • 2023 Cannes Film Festival Emerging Filmmaker Showcase

Virtual production has brought digital filmmaking into an unprecedented era of creativity and efficiency, enabling productions to shoot, reset, and make adjustments on-the-fly. Among the technological building blocks that make this innovation possible is Pro Data, a high-performance storage solution with groundbreaking speed and security for media professionals.

Pro Data integrates seamlessly into virtual production, enabling dynamic workflows that optimize the camera-to-post process. A recent short film produced by the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Center showcased how Pro Data contributed to the success of the film at its Sundance premiere, and its impact on virtual production workflows.

Dystopian Sci-Fi Fathead Brought to Life Through Virtual Production

Fathead is a proof-of-concept short film set in a dystopian future, where rival groups clash for control of a junkyard paradise. Its captivating visuals and diverse casting garnered a nomination for Outstanding Short Form at the NAACP Image Awards in a crowded field of exemplary contemporaries, and was featured in the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

This innovative production was the first film shot on North America’s largest LED Volume Stage – akin to that used on The Mandalorian – setting photorealistic scenes for more immersive performances without costly sets or on-location shoots. Volumetric capture on a dynamic soundstage provides real-time adaptive backdrops for actors, showcasing the potential of modern virtual production environments.

Production still from Fathead

Production still from Fathead

Fathead was a big ‘WOW’ moment for what’s possible for future camera, sound, and DIT teams to deliver the most accurate creative intent before it leaves the set” — Dane Brehm, DIT

Pro Data represents a new category of storage product, purpose-built for uncompromising creative and technical professionals. On the Fathead set, Pro Data performed as a content data hub that allowed parallel collaboration between capture, ingest, post, and VFX teams. Up to four workstations can be connected to a single Pro Data simultaneously, and collaborators can handoff virtual drives between teams without re-cabling.

Versatile, streamlined data management eliminates friction, ensuring a smooth and collaborative production process. Using Pro Data as a massive, centralized repository for original camera files provided robust connectivity between the on-set crew, their post-production applications, and crucial data.

Fathead exemplifies the flexibility and innovation afforded by advancing virtual production workflows. As this nascent technology continues to evolve, Pro Data has proven to be a turnkey solution, empowering filmmakers to focus on creative expression. Its unparalleled performance, rock-solid data protection, and collaborative capabilities enable seamless production processes, allowing creators to bring captivating stories to life on the screen.

Shooting on Amazon Studios' virtual production stage in Los Angeles

Shooting on North America’s largest LED Volume Stage, Amazon Studios in Los Angeles

Virtual Production Meets Its Moment

The importance of delivering high production-value media within constrained budgets has always been paramount in film and television. However, with today’s intense competition between streaming platforms for increasingly discerning audiences, filmmakers face the dual challenge of meeting the demand for visually stunning, immersive storytelling while managing limited resources.

Virtual production has emerged as a transformative solution to these challenges, offering cost-effective methods to achieve exceptional visual quality without incurring budget overages. By reducing the reliance on extensive location shooting and physical sets, virtual production enables filmmakers to create elaborate environments digitally, saving time and resources. Fathead serves as a prime example of how virtual production techniques, facilitated by the dynamic foundation of Pro Data, contributed to a visually captivating film that maintained a realistic budget.

Pro Data seamlessly integrates into virtual production workflows, both ensuring efficient data management and allowing filmmakers to concentrate on storytelling without being hindered by technical complexity. Simultaneous collaboration between multidisciplinary teams brings massive productivity gains, unheard of even a few years ago.

Completed frame from virtual production Fathead (2023)

A finished frame from Fathead

Technical Creativity Promotes Innovation

Digital Imaging Technicians Dane Brehm and Johanna Salo brought their creativity to bear when integrating Pro Data into the production of Fathead. “We’re like the chief technical officers of the camera department: we try to take the friction out of a workflow. A lot of the time, shooting happens out of order, so it’s really important that we’re able to pull up a reference shot quickly to ensure color and lighting consistency,” said Brehm. “Pro Data allows us to handoff original camera footage among specialists, saving hours of time typically spent waiting for one team to complete their work before moving to the next step in the workflow.”

Fathead movie poster

Fathead (2023)

Written and Directed by c. Craig Patterson

Director of Photography Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Edited by Naomi Shroff-Mehta

Shooting on Amazon’s virtual production stage in Los Angeles, deploying Pro Data as a central data hub for collaboration couldn’t have been easier: “We offloaded footage from ARRI Mini LF cameras to Pro Data using Silverstack to generate our metadata, dividing it among five or six storage containers that were then taken up by multiple connected workstations,” added Salo. “We also produced a live stream to share with offsite production for rough assembly, but having a high-bandwidth, collaborative setup on-set is essential if you want to move fast. Being able to parallelize our workflow saved us days in post!”

The technical achievement accomplished by Fathead extended beyond simple equipment and connections. It showcased a cutting-edge workflow that easily could’ve been science fiction until recently, highlighting the remarkable scalability of virtual production. Despite its modest budget, Fathead demonstrated how skillfully combining specialized and commodity equipment can collectively produce superior media than its raw componentry might suggest.

The film industry’s future lies in embracing the possibilities presented by virtual production. Pro Data stands as a reliable and high-performance building block, facilitating the seamless handling and management of data during the production process. As this revolutionary approach continues to shape the landscape of filmmaking, Pro Data provides a storage platform that ensures filmmakers can focus on creativity and expression for a brighter future, indeed.