Virtual Production

VIRTUAL PRODUCTION
Blog#1  November 5th 2020
BY GABRIELLA KROUSANIOTAKIS
Take That Leap
If you asked me seven months ago, before the global pandemic if what I was doing now was possible, I would probably laugh at the idea. Before the pandemic, I was working full time as a bartender. I was taking care of my elderly mother and diabetic dog. All my money went into paying bills. I put a small portion away for film equipment. While all my co-workers would go out and party, I was home, reading screenplays, articles on my favorite directors, watching tutorials and consuming everything film related. Three years ago, my mother sat me down and said, “It is time you started taking steps toward your dream, to be a filmmaker.” I said, “But mom, we have all these bills, we can’t afford it. And I am ok with that. However, there is this camera I was looking at, it’s a starter camera but I am not sure if I should go for it.” She said, “GO FOR IT!!!” So I did. I bought my first Canon  T2i. It came with a kit lens.
My First Steps
From there, I would spend all my time off from work playing with the camera. Contacting people to see if they wanted any videos. I was finally in a position where I could now create with this little Canon camera. Watched a ton of tutorials by Creative Ryan (he also inspired me to go for the T2i and 1D x) and those tutorials didn’t go to waste. I got my first few shoots, at some local restaurants in Tarpon Springs. It was then I felt the first high from filmmaking. I would pre-plan my shoots, execute them with my shot list that I had prepared, and then began to edit. I found that editing was my true mistress. Some of my shots were not great, but with some skillful editing, I could make them look amazing.
A year later, I upgraded from my little T2i to the Canon 1DXmarkii. This camera was a beast! It was the closest camera you can get to a cinema camera. That investment alone solidified my commitment to making it as a filmmaker. You have to invest in yourself.  I realized though, it is not just the fancy equipment that makes someone a good filmmaker, it is what they do with the gear they have. I spend another year just learning this new camera and the gear I got with it. I learned about audio, lighting, composition, storyline, and editing. I was creating little videos on whatever time I had off, no matter how exhausted I was from my “real” job.
Right before the pandemic, I was working overtime and all the while booking more and more shoots. I was frustrated at work because it was taking me away from what I really wanted to do but also knew I needed that job to stay afloat. And then, just like that, as if the universe was trying to tell me, “It is time to take that leap. Fully commit!” the pandemic caused the restaurant I worked at to shut down.
My First Win
I spend the first three months editing and learning Adobe After Effects. I was using Premiere Pro at the time, every day. Learning After Effects was so much fun, especially when Andrew Kramer from Video Copilot is your teacher!  I was doing tutorials and creating amazing graphics all the while, slowly building up my skills, not knowing what awaited for me on the other side. Now I had time to do what I really loved. There was no job to hold me back. No schedule. So I spent every single day creating with this new software. I even reached out to one of my favorite vocalists, Roland Clark and asked if I could create a music video for him…remotely. He said yes. The video I created for him, my first music video, ended up being shared by Fatboy Slim on his social media platforms. I saw 100,000 views on my little video. It was incredible. I grew up listening to Fatboy Slim as a teenager and now my favorite artist had shared my video. How cool! I continued to make more music videos, building up my skills and confidence. That was my first win. However, the real win was becoming friends with Roland Clark, whom I hold in the highest regard as a friend and collaborator. Thank you Roland for believing in me and giving me a chance!

During this whole time I was looking for work. After feeling depressed from not finding anything, I decided just for fun to go and see if Lightstorm Entertainment was hiring. Lightstorm is James Camerons production company. My lifelong dream is to one day work with him. In the job posting, there was a line that changed my path and trajectory forever. It said, “We are on the bleeding edge of virtual film production.” What was virtual production? Everyone I asked said they had no idea. Even a friend of mine who is a VFX supervisor for a major film company did not know. So then I knew, I was onto something.
The Giant Leap
What I knew was the first step toward virtual production was to learn Unreal Engine, a gaming software. But why? Why would a filmmaker want to use a gaming engine? I downloaded the Virtual Film Production summary from Epic Games and began to learn what it really was. So then, I was faced with learning this new software and not quite sure how it would enable me to make films. I spent an entire week doing tutorials, all geared toward making games. Even took a four hour course and created a game level. When I was done, I had created a game level, but with nothing to show. I went from tutorial to tutorial until I found a channel by Jonathan Winbush. He had just launched a course through Mograph.com and it was geared toward exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and paid for the course and from there, things really started to heat up. I want to mention that what really stood out to me about Jonathan Winbush’s Mograph.com course was how much work went into this. It was not the content itself, it was the delivery through an incredible teacher. Winbush, to this day is my favorite teacher. Winbush, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!!!

I devoured this course. I would wake up, walk the dog, come home and spend hours doing the course, take a break to walk the dog again and then I was back at it till the wee hours of the morning. I can honestly say this course changed my life. I started posting the things I was creating and discovering in Unreal Engine and it was beyond exciting. This was not just a course, it was an experience. Virtual Production and Unreal Engine is a world I not only became obsessed with but fell deeply in love with.
My Current Progress
Now that I have completed the course and had a few more wins and successes, I am moving on to the next challenge. Motion capture and how to incorporate mocap data into Unreal to drive characters which I also want to create. I just recently received a tester pair of Prime II motion capture gloves by an incredible company called Manus.  Thank you Serdal, if you’re reading this. Manus mocap gloves are the ones that are compatible with Xsens motion capture suits. I contacted Xsens and told them what I was doing and what I was learning.  The ladies from Xsens are truly remarkable. Audrey and Katie Jo.  Katie Jo, if you’re reading this, know I am eternally grateful for all of your help! You brought me one step closer to my dream with your introduction to the Mocap God!! To the MocapGod, thank you for giving me your time and advice! I am learning Motionbuilder everyday and loving it.
I can honestly say making contact with Manus and Xsens was life changing. Xsens is allowing me to test out their motion capture software, MVN Animate. I also bought an iphone this week so I can utilize the facial capture live link feature that Unreal Engine offers. So now, I have the gloves, the mocap body data and facial capture. My goal for this month is to utilize all three of these in order to create something really amazing and all the while to learn how to record and edit motion capture data.

One of the reasons I find it a huge benefit to have been selected as a Creative Pinellas Grantee is this blog portion of the program. Having a blog is a way to document my journey and progress so that I can look back and see where I started and how much I have progressed. It is a huge motivator. It also allows others to go and see my progress and growth throughout my journey.
 

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