There’s no doubt about it – the production industry has faced some growing pains since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the past year, it seems the whole world has had to learn to pivot, adjust processes and move forward within social distancing and COVID-19 safety protocols. These challenges, which were also faced by the production world at large, forced us to think outside of the box and to develop solutions that pushed us out of our comfort zone. In doing so, we have discovered a new way of facilitating productions that has allowed us to not only survive but thrive during a pandemic while also providing a clear path for our future.

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Three main areas of growth that we have seen in our company – and these are reflected in  production industry as a whole – are virtual reality productions, remote video productions and remote post-production.

Virtual Reality Production

Virtual and augmented reality productions were definitely around long before COVID-19, just not used all too often. The lockdown and required social distancing during the pandemic highlighted to everyone – from production industry facilities and studio networks to corporate leaders and brands – just how important these services can be. Embracing these technologies can come with a bit of a learning curve, which we all discovered as we ventured to move beyond Zoom-like production to create higher quality results.

Marianne Guenther is CEO of SNEAKY BIG, the most tech-savvy production studio in Arizona.

As the production industry went into problem-solving mode to offer solutions to overcome COVID restrictions, we quickly learned how many additional benefits there were to virtual production – both from a financial and creative standpoint. There are many inherent advantages in working with a virtual set over a physical one. For example, working with a virtual set designer allows for greater flexibility in the creative design. The sky’s the limit for a virtual set and the result is a life-like, immersive virtual world that is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

When working with a virtual set designer, you can make changes to your set quickly and easily. These changes would be a nightmare ­– in terms of both cost and time – with a physical set. For example, you can easily adjust the look of the virtual design by changing the color, height or any other augmented elements to meet the desired look. The virtual set designer can make these and other creative changes often in a matter of days or even hours.

It’s also a very cost-effective option. You save on building materials and crew costs needed to build a physical set, and you don’t have to pay storage and moving fees when the set is not in use. It can also take a fraction of the time to create, decreasing your overall investment.

While 2D green screen technology has been widely used for years (for example, weather reports), custom, immersive, 3D virtual sets were not a mainstream technology solution before the pandemic and were mostly reserved for very specific niches of production (think Marvel movies). Now, they are an available and adaptable option for everything from awards shows like the Emmys to game shows, corporate events and other forms of scripted or unscripted TV.

Virtual sets are no longer niche – they are the future of production.

Remote Video Production

The pandemic lockdown forced studios like ours to re-evaluate traditional workflows and the at-large production world was no different. We found ourselves going remote with video production with novel solutions, and quickly.  We realized there was a pandemic-oriented solution to productions when we incorporated virtual elements combined with remote production capabilities.

For one of our recent projects, we had people in three different states all keyed into the same virtual set. The client was able to produce their show during a travel ban and saved money as a result. Remote video production made it possible to create socially distant productions in a new way.

For example, you can have a director in L.A. or New York watching a shoot live via Zoom or a multi-viewer video solution while the cast and crew are shooting in Scottsdale, Arizona. While working on a variety of shows last year in our facility, we had several directors tell us they couldn’t believe we had created a solution that allowed them to direct from their homes. That’s the reality of today’s remote video production!

Pivoting to a virtual solution combined with remote production elements for your project can provide the added benefit of saving T&E dollars as well. 

Remote Post-Production

In our pre-COVID days, clients would drive or sometimes fly to our facility and sit in an editing bay to collaborate on post-production. Together we would pour over all available footage to make initial selections to start rough cuts. This would be followed by additional on-site visits later into the project to see how things were progressing on the edit.

With COVID-19, having people congregate in this way suddenly became unsafe. Thankfully, technology had progressed in leaps and bounds to provide workarounds to this problem. Here are a few solutions we developed or that evolved in the last year to meet these needs:

• For reviewing available assets remotely, we used programs like Iconik, a media asset management system, which allowed us to automatically upload files to the cloud. From there, everyone involved in the project – from the client and their executive team to the production editor – remotely reviewed and selected ideal assets to include in the project.

• Instead of having our editors come into the office, remote working solutions like Evercast, BebopTechnology, FrameIO and HPRSG enabled them to work from the safety of their own homes, with the same efficiency and quality they were used to.

Gone are the days where clients have to physically come to our post-production suite to see and provide live feedback on edited work. Instead, we Zoomed them into the editing bay, enabling real-time edit collaboration while keeping both the client and the editor safely ensconced in different locations.

These solutions aren’t perfect (yet!), but they are streamlining the post-production workflow in a safer, more cost-effective manner.

The pandemic came with a learning curve that forced us to change – in good ways – allowing us to create and provide solutions and services to our customers that are COVID-safer, more efficient and cost effective.  

A “new normal” for production is here to stay. And we say – welcome!


Marianne Guenther is CEO of SNEAKY BIG, the most tech-savvy production studio in Arizona.