On Location, Stage, or Virtual Production? Where to Film Your Next Campaign.
Introduction: Crafting Your Vision into Reality
As a brand envisioning your next video project, the setting in which your story unfolds is as crucial as the narrative itself. Whether it's the authenticity of filming on location, the predictability of a studio shoot, or the innovative flexibility of virtual production, choosing the right environment can significantly impact the final outcome. At ProFor, we specialize in translating client visions into tangible, impactful video content. Our expertise spans the gamut of production environments, each offering distinct advantages to best suit your project's requirements. In this guide, we'll explore the unique benefits and considerations of location shoots, traditional stage productions, and virtual environments to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your creative goals and budgetary constraints.
1. On-Location Productions
Choosing the perfect backdrop for a film or video project is more than a mere logistical decision; it's a vital part of storytelling that can significantly affect the authenticity and visual appeal of the final product. On-location shooting, while challenging, offers a sense of realism and immersion that is hard to replicate in studio settings. It provides unique, unfiltered interactions with the environment that can enhance the narrative and connect more deeply with audiences.
a. Authenticity and Visual Appeal
Shooting on location brings an unparalleled level of authenticity to film and video productions. Real-world settings—from bustling city streets to serene natural landscapes—add depth and believability to the narrative. This authentic backdrop can enrich the story, providing viewers with a more immersive and engaging experience. Moreover, the natural beauty and inherent character of real locations can lead to stunning visual results that captivate audiences and enhance the storytelling.
b. Advantages of Specific Locations
Certain locations offer unique features that are difficult or costly to replicate in a studio. For example, shooting in an actual aquarium provides a backdrop filled with marine life that adds vibrancy and authenticity to the scene, which would be nearly impossible to recreate artificially. Similarly, specific locations like historical banks, cozy restaurants, or picturesque beaches come with their built-in aesthetics and atmosphere, making them perfect for certain narratives without the need for extensive set construction.
c. Cost-Effectiveness
One of the significant advantages of on-location shooting is cost-effectiveness. When a suitable location aligns well with the project's needs, it can be more economical than building a set from scratch. Producers can often negotiate rates for extended usage or secure deals that include additional space for necessary production logistics like makeup, wardrobe, or video village setups. Furthermore, utilizing real locations can reduce the need for extensive art direction and set dressing, thereby saving both time and money. Although location shoots can be a great solution for some small budget projects, it absolutely shouldn’t be thought of as “guerrilla” production.
d. Flexibility and Real-Life Elements
Real locations often come with a variety of usable spaces and settings, offering creative flexibility to the production. This can be particularly beneficial when shooting scenes that require multiple environments, as different areas of a single location can serve varied narrative purposes. Additionally, filming on location can simplify the logistics of incorporating specific real-life elements, such as animals, which would be more challenging to manage in a studio.
e. Challenges and Considerations
Despite its benefits, on-location shooting presents its own set of challenges. The cost and availability can vary dramatically, often depending on the location scout's ability to secure access to desired spots. Weather conditions pose another significant challenge, as adverse weather can halt production unexpectedly, leading to delays and increased costs.
Matching client expectations can also be complex when shooting on location. Differences between scouting photos and the actual setting, along with unforeseen logistical issues such as space limitations and noise from neighboring areas, can impact the shoot. It requires clear communication and flexibility from all parties involved to align on the final vision and adapt as needed.
f. In conclusion
On-location shooting offers a unique set of advantages and challenges that can significantly impact the production process and the final outcome of the project. Its ability to provide authentic, visually appealing settings that enhance storytelling must be weighed against the practical challenges and potential uncertainties it introduces. However, with careful planning, clear communication, and a flexible approach, on-location productions can lead to truly captivating and memorable content.
2. Stage Productions
The allure of stage productions lies in their unparalleled control over the filming environment. A well-equipped stage offers filmmakers a blank canvas where they can construct any world they envision, unbound by the limitations of natural settings. This level of control ensures that every aspect of the scene aligns perfectly with the director's vision, contributing significantly to the storytelling process.
a. Comfort and Customization
Stages are designed with comfort and versatility in mind, offering a controlled environment where creativity can flourish without the unpredictability of outdoor elements. This control extends to lighting, sound, and climate, ensuring that every scene is captured under optimal conditions. The ability to customize settings down to the finest detail allows for precise artistic expression and can elevate the production value of the project.
b. Benefits and Accessibility
The benefits of using a stage are manifold, especially when budget allows. Stages come equipped with various setups, from infinite white or black backgrounds to elaborately designed interior sets such as living rooms, restaurants, and generic stores. These pre-existing environments can significantly reduce the time and expense associated with set construction and decoration. Additionally, stages provide consistent lighting conditions, eliminating the variability and challenges of natural light, and are soundproof and weather-proof, ensuring that production can proceed without interruptions.
c. Facilities and Services
One of the major advantages of shooting on a stage is the availability of additional facilities and services. These can include green rooms for talent, catering services for crew, dedicated spaces for clients, and fully equipped production offices. These amenities make the production process smoother and more comfortable for everyone involved, contributing to a more efficient and enjoyable working environment.
Traditionally, many large studio complexes would also offer access to backlot locations. These are large outdoor spaces used to construct large-scale sets for shooting exterior scenes. Backlots can contain permanent exterior builds, such as natural landscapes, city streets from any age and style, or rural landscapes. Or, for more customized options, backlots can also have space for temporary set construction.
d.Flexibility and Limitations
While stages offer a high degree of control and flexibility, they also come with certain limitations. The environment is confined to what has been built or set up within the space, meaning there is less spontaneity in terms of changing locations or backgrounds on the fly. This requires thorough pre-production planning and a clear understanding of the creative direction to ensure that all necessary elements are in place before filming begins.
Pre-existing setups on stages, such as infinite backgrounds or themed rooms, provide easy solutions for specific scenes, making them ideal for projects that can benefit from these environments without the need for extensive customization. However, the scale of the stage can also dictate the scope of the project; larger stages offer more options for set builds and background variety, whereas smaller stages might limit the production's scale but still provide effective solutions for less extensive projects.
e. The Importance of Pre-Production
The success of a stage production heavily relies on meticulous pre-production and clear creative direction. Unlike location shoots, where the environment offers inspiration and variability, stage shoots require detailed planning and art direction to bring the envisioned world to life. This includes everything from set design and lighting to the positioning of green screens for post-production effects.
f. Digital Set Extensions
Without the need to go fully virtual, in some cases, it is possible to shoot in a practical physical location with some elements digitally manipulated, revised and extended. This includes changes to the set as well as the props, lighting, and sometimes talent.
g. In Conclusion
Choosing to shoot on a stage presents a unique set of advantages that can greatly enhance the quality and efficiency of a production, provided that the project's needs align with what a stage can offer. The controlled environment, coupled with the extensive facilities and customization options, makes it an attractive choice for filmmakers seeking precision and reliability in their production process. 
3. On Set Virtual Production with Volume Walls
On Set Virtual Production (OSVP), particularly with the use of volume walls, is revolutionizing the way filmmakers approach both location and studio shoots. In the context of OSVP, a volume involves filming live-action actors and sets surrounded by large, very high-definition LED video walls displaying computer generated imagery. This blends post-production techniques with live-action production techniques. Volumes are often curved and can be U-shaped, J-shaped, circular, or other. By merging the tangible benefits of physical stages with the dynamic versatility of location environments, volume walls offer a unique production experience that is transforming storytelling possibilities.
a. The Hybrid Approach
Volume walls, essentially U-shaped LED structures, display environments created with Unreal Engine technology. These digitally crafted scenes offer a degree of realism and depth previously unattainable with traditional green or blue screens. Lindsey Sandrin, Orlando General Manager at Vu, a creative technology company with the world's largest network of virtual production stages, emphasizes: "Virtual Production is not just saving time and money for producers, it's creating an entirely new playing field for directors and filmmakers, combining the precision and control of studio production with the accuracy of real-world locations."
These environments can be built from scratch or derived from real-world scans, allowing for unparalleled authenticity and detail. The immersive nature of volume walls enhances the filming process by providing actors and directors with a more tangible sense of space and setting, fostering better performances and more dynamic shots.
b. Maximizing the Volume Experience
The comfort and controlled conditions found in traditional soundstage settings are fully present in volume-based shoots. However, they come with added benefits such as real-time environmental interaction and parallax effects, which add depth and realism to each scene. Strategic placement of objects and extras within the volume can greatly enhance these effects, blurring the lines between digital and physical realms.
Creating environments using advanced techniques like LiDAR and photogrammetry offers filmmakers the ability to replicate real-world locations with stunning accuracy. However, this process requires considerable time and technical expertise. While volume technology allows for on-the-fly adjustments, maintaining a disciplined approach to decision-making ensures that the final product remains focused and cohesive.
c. Technical Considerations and Challenges
Despite the innovative advantages, virtual production with volume walls is not without its challenges. The technical complexity of setting up and operating these systems requires a skilled team and careful planning. "The key to successful LED Volume production is a blend of art and technology, which historically has been very complex – from optimizing the 3D virtual art and lighting to the involvement of technologies like real-time rendering and camera tracking. And while certain productions still require this level of tech and expertise, as the industry evolves we're seeing the streamlining of creative workflows and an increase in speed and accessibility for production teams during pre-production and live on-set." says Sandrin.
Moreover, while the LED walls themselves emit light, creating natural-looking illumination within the volume requires an experienced gaffer to balance the artificial and virtual light sources effectively. Additionally, to achieve a believable environment, physical props and set pieces are often necessary to integrate seamlessly with the digital background.
d. Considerations for Project Scope
While volume technology offers a broad array of creative possibilities, it may not be suitable for all projects, particularly those with limited budgets or smaller scopes. The investment in virtual production is substantial, both in terms of time and resources. It is most beneficial for projects that require repeatable, customizable settings, or those that would benefit from the immersive environments that volume technology can provide.
e. Conclusion
Virtual production using volume walls represents a significant leap forward in filmmaking technology, blending the best aspects of location and studio shooting. As this technology continues to evolve, it presents filmmakers with new opportunities for creative storytelling and visual artistry.
Navigating Your Production Choices
Choosing the right environment for your video project is more than a logistical decision—it's about finding the perfect backdrop that aligns with your vision, message, and budget. Whether it's the authenticity and dynamism of an on-location shoot, the controlled comfort of a traditional stage, or the innovative versatility of virtual production, each setting offers unique benefits to bring your story to life.
At ProFor, we're committed to helping you navigate these choices, ensuring your video not only meets but exceeds your expectations. We invite you to reach out and discuss your next project with us, where we can explore the best environment for your narrative together. Let's create something remarkable, blending innovation with tradition, to craft video content that truly resonates with your audience.

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