August 17, 2023

CSC Works to Fill Virtual Production Skills Gap

The Canadian Society of Cinematographers held a three-day Virtual Production Masterclass on July 8, 9, and 10 in Toronto. The workshop, which required the participation and contributions from eight industry partners is part of the Society’s work to mitigate Canada’s growing skills gap in virtual production.

Research and Markets, the “world’s largest market research store,” predicts the Global Virtual Production Market will increase from USD $2.6 billion 2021 to USD $5.6 billion by 2026.  Hands-on learning opportunities taught by people who are actively engaged on set with current technology – such as the workshop held by the CSC in July in Toronto – will play a vital role in making sure Canada has a workforce trained in the latest technology.

Canada’s film and television industry has been on an upward trajectory since the early 2000s as more US productions come to Canada to film their shows.  A significant infrastructure of rental houses, post production facilities and trained crew has grown to support the industry. But support for virtual production training is limited.

Total film and television production volume leapt by an unprecedented amount in 2022, reaching an all-time high of $11.69 billion and created 240,760 jobs, according to Profile 2022, an annual report issued by the Canadian Motion Picture Association (CMPA). The CMPA’s Profile 2022 provides an analysis of economic activity in Canada’s screen-based media production industry during the period of April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. The industry added over $2.56 billion in production spending, pushing it 21.8% higher than the previous pre-pandemic high of $9.60 billion in 2019/20.

And according to The Hollywood Reporter “Virtual Production is driving a post-COVID boom in Canada. In January 2022, it reported “American streaming giants and broadcasters are not only returning to Canada for location shoots — they’re setting up shop for good with new builds of production stages, soundstages, and studios … The boom is being driven in part by Canada’s robust VFX industry, which is ushering in a new era of virtual production in Toronto and Vancouver that offers tremendous time and cost savings for local and foreign shoots.”

The Toronto Screen Industry Workforce Study (March 2021) says that, while Canada has a robust VFX industry, a virtual production skills gap will prevent the ability to serve the industry.

“Options for improving training opportunities are to increase pathways for emerging talent to gain initial experience and increase incentives for producers to train emerging talent [are limited],” the report noted. There is “a shortage of experienced workers to fill supervisory or mentorship roles.”

The global film and television production industry has seen an enormous influx of investment from Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) services, according to the Toronto Screen Industry Workforce Study. And these SVOD services have progressively escalated competition by creating original content at a scale that has overwhelmed the capacity of film and television producers at a global level, driving film and television production booms across most jurisdictions with a film  and television industry.

Based on historical data and forecasts, this boom is expected to continue over the near term based on established streamers and newcomers to the market.  

Largely because of the global content trends, Toronto, for example, has fielded extraordinary demand for service production, straining the city’s supply of production infrastructure and talent.

Because a Director of Photography trained in virtual production will play a key role in a producer’s capacity to engage with the technology, the Canadian Society of Cinematographers made Advancing Technology one of its four strategic pillars in early 2021. 

“Ever since the shift from silents to talkies, from black-and-white to Technicolor, from hand-painted sets to CGI, this industry has always been about innovation, creativity, and good old movie magic. We can’t wait for the digital revolution,” Paul Bronfman, Chairman and CEO of ComWeb Corp. said at the time.

“In addition to providing high quality, experiential learning opportunities to our members, CSC wants to ensure equal access to the technology that we know will dominate the industry’s future,” says Susan Saranchuk, CEO of the CSC. “That means that every initiative we undertake in the area of advancing technology will have the idea of improving access to underrepresented communities woven into it from the start.”

The CSC has spent more than a year working on a partnership for its Advancing Technology initiative.

ARRI was an early supporter. 

“ARRI wants to ensure equal access to the technology that will dominate the industry’s future,” said ARRI President & CEO, Glenn Kennel in May 2022.

“We look forward to partnering with the members of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers who understand the specific training necessary to work on advanced virtual production sets and are in a uniquely suited position to develop a series of advancing technology workshops that can be delivered across the country in person and across the world online.”

Since that time, the CSC added eight additional partners—2D House, ARRI, Creamsource, IATSE 667, IATSE 669 Pixomondo, The Foundation of Cinematography, and William F. White International and Versatile Media—six of whom were needed to put on the Virtual Production Masterclass in Toronto, which, including gratis gear and studio time, had a budget of $1.3 million dollars.

The Virtual Production Masterclass was the brainchild of Philip Lanyon csc, Director of Photography for Netflix’s Frontier, Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, who developed the curriculum in conjunction with awarding winning Buckethead creators, Marco Bossow and Andy Brown of Transmute Pictures. Chris Mably csc, DP on Star Trek: Discovery joined Lanyon in co-teaching the lighting module, and Josh Kerekes, Head of Production for Pixomondo, handled the science of colour.

“It’s important DPs become fluent in VP because this tech will become more and more ubiquitous,” said Lanyon, who has been working in the industry for over 30 years first in lighting and then as a DP for 18 years.

“DPs are the conduit through which the creative idea or story is transformed into a technical process and then captured to be edited back into a story. The more a DP can understand the story and the technical process of capture, the more cohesive and immersive the story becomes. With virtual production you have many systems running together as a whole, so it’s important to understand and be fluent each of those systems to create a cohesive and immersive story.”

– By CSC Staff