Virtual Production Levels

Drew Viehmann
2 min readAug 11, 2020

The virtual production space is currently incredibly difficult to understand from the outside looking in, as there are only a few pieces that do not change drastically depending on production. With this article, I endeavor to standardize a simple terminology for complex setups.

Virtual production as a term can refer to many different real-time engine productions. However, here I am speaking specifically about virtual production as it pertains to live-action filmmaking with a camera and engine working in tandem. This means entirely in-engine productions and motion capture acting, while incredible processes in their own right, are not the focus of this article.

This “Levels” system revolves around time syncing and setup capabilities. Each of the 4 levels are intended for different segments of the VP industry, and become more complex with each level. The key element I use to define each level is the need for or lack of Genlock.

Genlock, in reference to VP, is the process of syncing the frame capture time for the camera, motion tracking system, and realtime engine (RTE). For perfect capture, all three of these elements must be in sync and talking to one another. If you have an LED volume, that becomes a 4th element that must be synced.

Essentially, you can only have 1 of 4 types of setup:

Level 1: No Sync (Initial Testing for VP)

  • Webcam/Camera Input via USB, HDMI, or SDI
  • Unreal Engine (or other RTE), highest available frame creation speed
  • Vive Motion Tracker solution (anything else is massive overkill)
  • Greenscreen

Level 2: Partially Synced (Hyper Indie VP)

  • Camera input via HDMI or SDI
  • Unreal Engine (or other RTE), creating frames in sync with camera
  • Vive Motion Tracker solution
  • Greenscreen

Level 3: Synced Greenscreen (Industry Standard VP)

  • Camera input via HDMI or SDI
  • Unreal Engine (or other RTE), creating frames in sync with camera
  • Genlocked motion tracking solution
  • Greenscreen

Level 4: Synced Volume (Filmmaking VP)

  • Genlocked Camera Input via SDI
  • Unreal Engine (or other RTE), creating frames in sync with camera
  • Genlocked motion tracking solution
  • Synced LED Volume

Ignoring the testing phase, there are only 3 types of setup used in the VP industry as a whole. Anything else just ends up being the tier below, or not working properly, an example being the combination of a Vive tracking system with an LED wall. Synced elements are not always necessary, but when they are, everything must be synced.

Hopefully this helps you to communicate with other professionals about types of VP setups in a more simple and comprehensive way. As always, please let me know if you have anything to add or any questions in a comment below.

--

--