Previsualization, in some form or another, is an essential tool for organizing literally any production. From basic shot lists to storyboards to full animatics, previsualization is what keeps crews moving on the same path and towards the same goal.
Today, 3D pre-viz software has broken the boundaries of classic previsualization by enabling productions to explore and experiment in ways never before imagined. Lighting, blocking, and even art direction can all be tested, tweaked, and toyed with before a filmmaker ever sets foot on set.
But there is a catch.
Thanks to prohibitive costs and limited software capabilities, the vast majority of productions have been restricted from using 3D previsualization to their full advantage, and the possible pre-production applications of 3D pre-viz have subsequently remained largely unrealized.
In this post, we’re leaping into the near future of 3D pre-viz to show you how emerging technologies can be put to practical use and may be able to save your next production major time, stress, and cold hard cash.
So crank up that flux capacitor; it’s time to take a trip into the world of tomorrow.
The term “previsualization” refers broadly to any practice that enables a filmmaker to visualize a scene before actually filming it. Traditional methods of pre-viz include shot lists, storyboards, overhead diagrams, and animatics.
The positive impact that pre-viz practices can have on a production’s shooting schedule and budget make them a critical component of the pre-production process. But these classic tools often come with classic limitations.
It’s no secret that translating shot lists, storyboards, or overheads into fully functional production plans often requires as much guesswork as it does science.
3D previsualization, on the other hand, seeks to remove as much guesswork from the process as possible. It allows filmmakers to visualize their scenes and shots in a fully immersive, customizable, digital environment.
The possibilities of 3D pre-viz are virtually (no pun intended) endless, but the technology’s current use in professional filmmaking is almost always limited to visual effects coordination and the planning of extraordinarily complex action scenes in big budget movies.
And why is that?
The individual drawbacks of using 3D pre-viz can be divided into two big categories:
Time and Money.
Pre-visualizing in 3D is not a simplistic process. It requires that an entire universe be built from the ground up. Sets have to be digitally constructed. Characters have to be digitally sculpted. Cameras and lenses have to be programmed into digital existence.
As you can imagine, all of this requires an enormous amount of effort, and any amount of effort always requires a proportionate amount of time. In addition to the hours, days, and weeks spent just creating a 3D previsualization, we also have to consider the time spent conceptualizing and confirming it.
How many meetings will it take to plan a 3D previsualization? How many emails will have to be exchanged to debate whether the thing’s working or not?
How many times will part or all of it have to be recreated before a 3D pre-viz achieves its final form?
Then there are some extra expenses.
3D pre-viz requires specialized equipment and even more specialized skills, often provided by teams or whole companies of trained professionals with expertise specific to the field. These individuals work incredibly hard to make magic and they should be well-compensated for performing their feats of creative and technical wizardry.
Care to guess who foots that bill?
The combined drawbacks associated with time and money are not enough for productions to swear off 3D pre-viz entirely, but they have resulted in one steadfast general rule:
For now, productions only use 3D pre-viz when absolutely necessary.
Subsequently, the pre-production possibilities of 3D pre-viz have been left largely unexplored.
What if it became something a little more available and a little more flexible? But beyond just ease-of-use and expense, what if 3D pre-viz became something simply more---a solution that goes beyond 3D storyboards and into the world of fully realized and fully rendered shots, way before a producer sets foot on set?
As technology continues to evolve, 3D pre-viz software will likewise continue to become increasingly capable and accessible- we’ll get into who’s making that happen soon.
First, let’s take a moment to consider how smaller production companies, or even those specializing in commercial production, might be able to leverage the expanding power of 3D pre-viz in the very near future.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The primary appeal of 3D previsualization, in theory, is that it allows filmmakers to accurately see what they’ll shoot long before they arrive on set to shoot it, a single selling point that contains massive appeal all on its own.
Right now, this level of 3D pre-viz only makes financial sense when used on a limited basis for VFX or stunt heavy sequences.
But what if it could be easily applied to more typical scenes?
For commercial production, what if a client could see the shot well ahead of time with minimal effort?
Imagine what you would be able to accomplish if you could realistically previsualize any shot, scene, or sequence that you want at almost no cost to the production.
Any experienced director knows that the hardest part of the job is found not in conjuring their vision but in communicating it to everyone else.
And in commercial production, “everyone else” often means the client.
Streamlining communication to iterate effectively with each of your clients on every shot, and with little to no cost to the production, could only be a dream come true.
But as mentioned earlier, traditional pre-viz takes a tremendous amount of planning and planning around all of the planning.
So, what if 3D pre-viz was accessible enough that you could eliminate most of the meetings, and emails, and instead, shortcut straight to the heart of the collaborative creative process?
Once you’ve locked in a shot, sequence, or even a full project, you could skip the typical pre-pro miscommunications by using your 3D pre-viz as a baseline of contact with the rest of your key crew and clients.
With sufficiently advanced previsualization technology, the need for “guesstimating” could be virtually eliminated by creating a single source of truth.
Crews, clients, and even cast members could get on the same page at the same time faster and easier than ever.
Most days on set are full of crew members figuring out the answers to creative questions.
The director, for instance, isn’t quite sure whether they want the 30mm or 50mm lens.
Or the DP suspects that the dolly track needs to be six feet further to the left than originally planned.
And then the production designer realizes that an entire wall of their perfectly decorated set won’t actually be seen on camera.
Think about it. On an average shoot, how many precious minutes are occupied by those small matters of trial-and-error that are so crucial to the creative process? And how many hours of production could you save if only it were somehow possible to work through those decisions beforehand?
Armed with the right capabilities, the digital environments provided by 3D previsualization software could be used as a scale model to show your production exactly
what it can, cannot, and just might do. You could use this kind of 3D pre-viz to hash out your creative decisions beforehand and craft a plan that will translate directly to
the physical dimensions of the real world.
While advanced visualization offers an obvious creative advantage to virtually any kind of production, it could also offer a major financial advantage specifically in the world of commercial production.
Most creators enter commercial pitch meetings with the exact same materials: a deck, an AICP bid form budget, and maybe storyboards or a sizzle reel for those feeling particularly competitive.
With the right 3D previsualization software, however, you could walk into your next pitch meeting with something no one else has: a full visualization of a shot, sequence, or complete spot that’s entirely customizable and rendered in high quality 3D.
And if that doesn’t engage the client, you should probably check their pulse.
Until recently, pre-viz pre-production advantages like those described above have been little more than distant dreams for the average filmmaker.
The costs and limitations associated with 3D pre-viz software have formed a convincing argument against smaller production companies making any significant investment in the technology.
That being said, there are so many incredible solutions on the market that exist in the pre-viz space, (Maya is but one great solution), and are truly sheer powerhouses in the space. But often, the primary focus is on 3D storyboarding.
What's becoming interesting to see is how other up and coming companies are putting a spin on pre-viz -- developing solutions that can create fully rendered shots ahead of time.
It's a pretty unique proposal. So unique that Wrapbook wanted to catch up with one of these companies to see what all the fuss was about.
Backlot is a collaborative design tool that allows entire teams of filmmakers to visualize, iterate, and plan their projects from top to bottom within an immersive 3D environment. It’s a brand-new platform that revolutionizes pre-production by allowing filmmakers to navigate their creative process in advance with more precision and efficiency than previously imaginable.
More specifically, Backlot is an innovation on pre-viz design that shifts the power of 3D previsualization directly into the hands of everyday filmmakers.
Let’s take a look at how Backlot pushes the envelope of 3D pre-viz through three lenses: visualization, collaboration, and ease-of-use.
Backlot is designed to work the exact same way that filmmakers already work, with the crucial difference that they’re not burning more and more cash with every passing second.
As a Backlot user, you can easily build digital replicas of your physical sets or locations, after which you can import digital representations of physical items- lights, cameras, props, talent, you name it- into that digital set.
And next comes the fun part.
In Backlot, lights work exactly like real lights. Cameras work like real cameras. Lenses, dollies, cranes, jibs, barn doors, silks, gels, the sun itself, everything- it all works exactly like it does in the real world.
The software also uses accurate dimensions. The 3D environments and objects within Backlot are designed to correspond to real-world dimensions, physics, and conditions.
Because of its accuracy, its software can produce a comprehensive map for each and every element of your shot or scene.It can output a blueprint for your entire production.
Backlot was designed with rapid iteration in mind. With a link, any member of your crew (or client) can be invited to collaborate on the same digital set live, in real-time.
In this way, the experience of Backlot is exactly like being on set with your crew, minus the pressure cooker of a tight schedule.
This could have strong implications for commercial productions.
Backlot has the potential to minimize client-creator tensions on set by crafting a safe space for differences of opinion to be explored well in advance. Clients are able to give input with maximum clarity, and filmmakers are able to make changes at zero cost.
All of this spells very good news for your production’s budget and schedule.
3D animation solutions can be incredibly powerful, but some can be difficult to master and often come with steep learning curves. Daniel Citron, founder of Backlot discusses his experience with past clients.
“In under 20 minutes, we’ve seen our users create stunning 3D scenes. They don’t need to learn to code, spend months navigating impossible interfaces, or hire an expensive external team. It just works like the tools they already know how to use.”
Backlot’s features have the potential collective power to reduce risks, reduce costs, and increase the value of your production’s time.
The potential of 3D previsualization is undeniably immense.
For Backlot specifically, creative professionals are discovering new and surprising ways to implement their powerful platform, including as a COVID-safe alternative classroom and a self-contained method of production in and of itself.
Find out for yourself. Double down on your pre-viz and sign up for early access to Backlot.
Or, to stay in the know for more tech-focused production tools, sign up for our newsletter below.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.