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The Future of Virtual Production with Mariana Acuña Acosta

September 26, 2022

Mariana is SVP for Virtual Production at Technicolor Creative Studios, leading Virtual Production & On-Set services worldwide. 

Tell us about your role at Technicolor Creative Studios? 

I’m responsible for leading Virtual Production & On-Set services worldwide across all brands. This means developing a vision and strategy for short to long-term goals across all service lines. Collaborating with the CTO R&D group, working with VP & VFX Supervisors, and encouraging collaboration and sharing expertise are some of the critical aspects that drew me to the role. Other elements include helping design and overseeing the deployment of virtual production stages in strategic locations. 

We are starting in Culver City with the Creators Lab next to our new creative hub. The Technicolor Creative Hub, is a brand-new location for Technicolor Creative Studios, which features a Virtual Production Stage, in the heart of Los Angeles’s tech district. You can find out more about the new studio here

What drew you to Virtual Production? 

It was a combination of factors, but first and foremost, having a background as an On-Set VFX Supervisor and senior compositor. When I started, VFX folks were not a welcome sight on set; there was fear and pushback. Fast forward to now, where most content is currently made with some form of VFX. Another was Virtual Reality; having founded a VR company and working with multiple VR filmmakers made me realize the potential of Virtual Production and what this technology could bring to the future of content creation. Game engines are a robust Swiss army knife with the promise of enhancing and improving traditional linear content creation pipelines and workflows. With my background in VFX, software and VR, Virtual Production felt like a natural progression in my career.  

What is your favourite project from Technicolor Creative Studios, and why? 

This is a tricky question because there are so many. Still, I will pick two: the short film Devmasa from Technicolor Creative Studios India because all brands worked together, they researched what real-time animation and final pixel in engine pros and cons were, and because they did it as a proof of concept on how telling a story using only newer technologies would look. Their hard work resulted in them winning a fierce shorts competition with it. More info here.

And the second is Prehistoric Planet, not only because our very own Adam Valdez directed some of the episodes; he did so brilliantly! But also because Patrick Smith’s visualization team did the pre-visualization, this team is one of the best-kept secrets in-house with unmatched dedication and talent. Their environments and virtual cinematography laid the groundwork for the rest of the MPC teams to create one of the most genuine-looking nature series.   

What do you expect the future of filmmaking and advertising to look like? 

Filmmaking and advertising industries are learning from the video game industry. Games have been using the best VFX, animation, and real-time technologies, combined with motion capture technology. Many advancements in Virtual Production techniques used today for film & advertising come from how game cinematics have been created for years. When you can’t shoot on location but don’t want everything to be CG, when you want controlled environments, because of set building costs, a need to be more travel and schedule friendly. Because you can visualize and be agile in the creative process, film, episodic, and advertising content will be more interactive. The promise of the metaverse is a future where you can reuse your assets & environments to produce a series or film, a video game, a Super Bowl commercial and a VR experience. We are now at a point where worlds have collided, blending how storytelling is created, distributed and consumed. 

Are there any trends in the industry and changes you expect to see in the next five years? 

I’d say standardization is vital, which is why there’s a movement toward SMPTE 2110. USD could become the language of the metaverse, ACES & HDR, as LED panels were mostly used for live events. Now with the broader adoption into film, episodic & advertising accurate colour representation is something the industry is actively working on. Nanosecond calibration, real-time compositing, adoption of near-time workflows, and course all come with advancements in software, hardware and workflows. This all means virtual production will see broader adoption in animation and advertising 

SMPTE 2110: A suite of standards from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers that describes how to send digital media over an IP network. 

USD: USD is a high-performance extensible software platform for collaboratively constructing animated 3D scenes, designed to meet the needs of large-scale film and visual effects production. 

ACES: The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) is the industry standard for managing color throughout the life cycle of a motion picture or television production. 

HDR: High Dynamic Range 

How does Technicolor Creative Studios continue to lead visual effects and stay on top of industry changes? 

I believe it’s because Technicolor Creative Studios is the leading creative partner for storytellers. We have the best people & talent, working collaboratively at a global scale, using expertise from across all brands, and keeping a client first, technology second approach. We bring the vision of storytellers to life using efficient and lean processes from pre-production to post. We stay on top of industry changes by having proprietary technology like Tessa and Genesis, which are an integral part of the VFX, VP & On-Set pipelines, and by investing in R&D while having a realistic, committed, leadership team. 

What do you think the future of virtual production will look like? 

I believe Virtual Production will take the forefront for years, just like VFX did. Wider adoption across industries, more stages will open globally and there will be automation and intelligent systems for camera tracking and calibration improvements. We can also expect to see growth of metahumans and the rise of digital twins, and there will be equipment-specific integrations & improvements like cameras, lenses, and mobile devices.  

Where can people hear more from you, and what events can we expect to see you at?

You can hear more from me by following my LinkedIn account here. I’ll also be attending Siggraph and Infinity Festival in 2022, so I hope to see many of you there. 

In the meantime, watch ‘The Power of Virtual Production’ panel from Beyond Imagination Festival which explores why and how Virtual Production has exploded onto the filmmaking scene. 

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