December 13, 2023

CSC Develops Homegrown Virtual Production Curriculum in 2023

From left to right: Philip Lanyon csc, Chris Mably csc, Marco Bossow and Andy Brown on the set of the Virtual Production Masterclass in Toronto held on July 7, 8 and 9. (Mably taught part of the lighting module but was not part of the curriculum development.)

Among other things, 2023 marked the debut of CSC’s home-grown virtual production curriculum. The need for virtual production training was identified in a 2020 Stakeholder Research Study the CSC conducted among its members, and key industry partners and observers, who declared it “urgent.”

“The times are changing,” said one stakeholder. “Virtual production will be as big as going from analog to digital. And we need to start to think about skills development for advancing technology now. Tomorrow will be too late.”

At the time, Philip Lanyon csc was the CSC’s west coast vice president, a role he continues to fill. He, himself, was seeing the need for virtual production education. Because of his experience lensing Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, he could identify the gap.  Lanyon has worked in the industry for over 30 years first in lighting and about then 18 years as a DP.  In 2023, has coauthored the The VES Handbook of Virtual Production.

“It’s not often that we have such a world of shifting change in our industry, the kind of events such as moving from film to digital, DLSR sensors becoming relevant for filmmaking and democratizing access, and gimbal stabilizers,” he says today. “I really feel like virtual production is one of those shifts. I feel very lucky to have had early access to this technology and believe I have a responsibility to share and give back this knowledge, so we all benefit from more immersive stories.”

With a contribution through The Future is Calling Campaign, ARRI pledged the resources the CSC needed to develop the curriculum. 

And to help him develop the details of what needed to be taught, Lanyon turned to Bucketheads creators Andy Brown and Marco Bossow.  Bucketheads is a Star Wars fan web series that follows the exploits of a team of Stormtroopers called Nova squad. When an LED panel company in Vancouver wanted to expand into virtual production, they sought an R&D partner to provide content. Bossow and Brown say they happily jumped at the chance to figure out virtual production “on the tiniest budget imaginable” and, as a result, became one of the first teams in Western Canada to execute a fully Unreal-Engine-driven virtual production shoot. That ultimately led them to conducting a presentation for Peacemaker Virtual Studios in Vancouver, where they met Lanyon.  

Bossow and Brown remember the conversation well. 

“Back in early 2020 – the dark times – we were determined to find a way to keep our non-profit Bucketheads alive. By 2022, we showcased a virtual production demo for Peacemaker,” they said. “Philip was one of the attendees and during a chat afterwards, he mentioned how accessible and easy to understand our demonstration was, and that he was working on putting together a workshop for the CSC membership. We exchanged numbers and a few weeks later he called us to join the team to develop the curriculum that ultimately formed the basis of a VP Masterclass.”

If it was to be successful, Lanyon believed the development of the curriculum needed to be done with cinematographers first and foremost in mind, and that, while the CSC has long standing relationships with many industry partners, the development of this curriculum needed independence.

“It’s important for organizations like the CSC to offer this opportunity because they are an independent organization. The CSC’s main objective is to foster the art of cinematography,” he says. “By necessity – and we appreciate that – Information from equipment suppliers or manufacturers can often include marketing hype. While we totally understand where they are coming from, that may not be the most useful way an organization like ours can give the most well-rounded, educational experience.” 

Lanyon, Bossow and Brown all agree that virtual production is such a new tool that many productions are interested in utilizing it, often without fully understanding the pros and cons, or the prep work required to integrate it successfully.

“As a DP, that’s where you can save the day if you know what questions to ask and what challenges and pitfalls to look out for,” say Bossow and Brown. “This technology is still in its infancy and knowing the ins and outs at this point already can be a real asset as Virtual Production evolves and becomes more mainstream.”

The CSC’s Virtual Production Program is made up of several elements:

  • The comprehensive Virtual Production Masterclass, held in Toronto in July, and the first of its kind in North America, with curriculum developed by Philip Lanyon csc, Macro Bossow and Andy Brown.
  • The creation of a five-part YouTube™ series, based on footage from the workshop, The CSC’s Introduction to Virtual Production for release in 2024.
  • Beginning in 2024, in-person studio-based one-day courses such as Lighting in an LED volume, Shooting in an LED volume, Introduction to Driving Plates, and Introduction to Unreal Engine.

“I feel very proud of the Masterclass so many of us worked hard on to put together, as well as the CSC’s entire Virtual Production Program,” says Lanyon. “I think what made the Masterclass so good was the nearly 18 months of preparation we put into it and that the classroom learning/hands-on format worked. First, we described what virtual production is and how to use it, then we demonstrated that and then, to apply their new learning, we gave the DPs access and control of a full virtual production crew and volume. By the end, each DP was confident to create their own unique story and push the tech to its fullest.”