Virtual production pushes boundaries of filmmaking

Griffith Film School students, alumni and staff collaborated on a new virtual production, Decommissioned.

Griffith Film School students are pioneering new technology that is revolutionising the screen industry. 

Master of Screen Production students, staff and alumni have collaborated with industry on a virtual production called Decommissioned, which uses the same technology Hollywood productions like The Mandalorian are employing.

GFS lecturer Sue Swinburne

Griffith Film School (GFS) lecturer Sue Swinburne called the technology a “game-changer”. 

“This allows you to create environments that you can’t get to, or don’t exist,” she said. 

“Instead of taking a crew to a physical location, feeding them, finding accommodation and relying on weather and lightwe were able to do everything from the GFS studios at South Bank. 

“It gives you the freedom to experiment and it will allow independent filmmakers the opportunity to make really highquality content. 

Set aboard the International Space Station, the sci-fi / horror short Decommissioned was created using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. 

Behind the scenes of Decommissioned

By piping Unreal Engine through rear projection, filmmakers were able to create a slick production that moved beyond the green screen. 

The project grew out of necessity at the height of COVID lockdowns last year when film students were unable to shoot on location. 

GFS students and staff worked with alumni at local post-production house Cutting Edge where they experimented with a combination of green screen, motion capture and Unreal Engine software to create a series of short films. 

Ms Swinburne said it was a steep learning curve for everyone involved. 

“We were all getting our heads around the technology together,” she said. 

“It was industry, academics and students all learning together and we got to demonstrate what experimentation and creative risk-taking looks like. 

“We had staff and students from across games, 3D animation and cinematography involved – this project brought together all areas of the film school. 

It is an amazing opportunity for students to be part of a new way of storytelling.” 

Behind the scenes of Decommissioned

Masters of Screen Production student Isaac Oancea produced the short film, Gorgon, set in the Australian outback, but using green screens and virtual environments. 

“Before COVID, I was planning to shoot a short film on location,” he said. 

“This saved a lot of time and money and really simplified the whole process. 

It’s definitely the future of film – taking out a lot of post-production work and eliminating the need for green screen. 

Isaac also worked on Decommissioned as a Director’s Assistant, calling it the opportunity of a lifetime. 

“It was a lot of fun stepping onto a big production with professionals who’ve been doing this for years, but we were all finding our way with the technology.” 

GFS alumni Jade van der Lei co-wrote Decommissioned and co-produced the short film with fellow graduates Danielle Redford and Sally Worley. 

GFS alumnus Jason Hargreaves

Cinematographer Jason Hargreaves, also a GFS alumnus, said it was exciting to be at the forefront of filmmaking. 

“You can be shooting a New York streetscape in the afternoon, then jump into a desert landscape, followed by a scene in outer space,” he said. 

“This is really going to raise the bar for local productions – there is potential to make low-budget films that look like a million dollars with this incredible new technology. 

Jason also said he enjoyed working alongside lecturers and students on the production. 

“It’s been lovely to come back and share my experiences working in the industry, engaging with the students,” he said. 

“I would’ve given my right arm for these kinds of experiences – I’ve mentored quite a few students from GFS and helped them gain access to the industry. 

Ms Swinburne said the new technology would be embedded in courses across Griffith Film School. 

“This is a great opportunity to keep learning and building our capacity,” she said. 

“Industry came to us – it was about pooling our knowledge and resources to create something new. 

“They were impressed to see what we were doing and there is definitely an appetite to dive into this area and really lead the way.”