We usually think about extended reality in terms of display. However, extended reality is also being used in the production of media that may or may not be viewed immersively. As varying factors make these means of production more popular, the small number of people knowledgeable in virtual production come into higher and higher demand.
Full Sail University is stepping up to meet these needs and provide more value for future students by investing in its own virtual production studio.
Wait, What Is Virtual Production?
To understand the kind of virtual production that we’re talking about, we need to take the headset off for a minute. After all, a headset isn’t strictly required for viewing or even entering some immersive environments. We’re talking here about room-scale VR.
The earliest VR experiences predate head-mounted displays and instead used projectors to turn a room into a virtual environment without the aid of a head-mounted display. The best example of this is the CAVE system that came out in the mid-‘90s.
These systems are difficult to move, as well as being expensive and complicated. Still, they found use cases in military and enterprise training, professional athletic training, and film production. As computing and graphic display have improved, this same principle has been adapted to larger areas with better quality.
The television series The Mandalorian is filmed in a virtual production studio that encloses a set within LED screens 21-feet high with a diameter of 75 feet. The system eliminates the need to travel between locations, eliminates complications relating to weather, and gives creators unparalleled control over highly believable sets.
This is the kind of extended reality that we’re talking about when we talk about virtual production. So, what is Full Sail doing? And why?
The Full Sail Studio
In November, Full Sail University announced plans to build a virtual production studio on their campus in Winter Park, Florida. The studio, with a budget of over $3M, is slated to be 16ft high and 40ft across, featuring an 18ft long straight panel.
“We knew this was the next logical step in our 40+ year investment in technology,” Full Sail University Education Director of Visual Arts, Rick Ramsey, said in a release shared with ARPost. “Virtual production is where the industry is headed, and we are proud to bring the future of the entertainment industry to our students today.”
An investment of this magnitude has to benefit a lot of people. The staff and administration intend on opening the space to students in a variety of programs including simulation, game design, animation, cinematography, show production, and others. The decision has even drawn the support of community organizations, including the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP).
“As companies move to increasingly adopt virtual and augmented reality technology, Full Sail University continues to prove itself a national frontrunner,” OEP CEO Tim Giuliani said. “Full Sail’s critical investment in our region’s digital infrastructure will act as a beacon for attracting, hosting, and fostering the growth of professional productions right here in Orlando.”
Why Now and What Next
Despite the size of the investment, the virtual production studio was an easy sell, according to Ramsey. Time saved pitching process went into research.
“From the moment it was proposed to our leadership they were supportive of adopting this new technology for our campus,” Ramsey told ARPost. “While the decision didn’t take long to make, our teams conducted extensive research to ensure we were creating 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 in the decision – or at least, little direct influence. The studio is being built because of industry demand, which is currently fueled by COVID-19. The Mandalorian, specifically cited by Ramsey was able to continue production through the pandemic in part because virtual production facilitates smaller in-person production teams.
“We make it a point to listen to the industry, employers, alumni, and our students,” said Ramsey. “As we were keeping our finger on the pulse of these groups, it was evident that by creating our own virtual production studio, we would be able to best serve these groups now and into the future.”
Finally, while the main goal of the studio is education, the source did say that the university had plans to use the studio to create content. Working with production companies interested in utilizing 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 episodic television and feature films, many of which are still under consideration. First and foremost, we will be focusing on academics,” said Ramsey. “Our first priority is to use the facility to create ‘real world’ production experiences for our degree programs that teach these disciplines.”
An Exciting Cinematic Future
Virtual production is coming, and Full Sail is possibly the first university preparing its students for that future. We have to remember that this doesn’t just benefit students of the university: we all stand to benefit from the content created by the graduates of these programs.