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Virtual reality bites: Gold Coast studio plans may even out-Fox Hollywood

Culture

The Gold Coast is poised to break ground on a massive virtual reality studio, potentially out-foxing major film hot-spots to install the first large-scale, purpose-built “Mandalorian-style” facility in Australia.

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In a classic case of ‘if we build it, they will come,’ international film and television producers are already lining up to film at the studio being billed as a “game changer” for the state’s screen industry.

The large-scale, custom-designed stage, to be built by Pinnacle Film Studios next to its existing three-studio warehouse at Helensvale, will house a seven metre high, 4-8k ultra high definition 360 degree wrap-around screen.

The studio will offer new visualisation developed by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, which operates some of the world’s leading games such as Fortnite, to deliver sophisticated life-like special effects in real time, effectively replacing green and blue-screen technology.

Pinnacle Studios founder Sherard Kingston said the development would further elevate the Gold Coast as a premium film destination.

“It’s the way of the future for sure. If we do this properly it will be a very useful addition to the local ecosystem. I think it will be a real addition and asset to the Gold Coast.”

Brisbane-based Story Bridge Films producer Todd Fellman said the technology was transforming the future of movies and movie-making.

Fellman has just wrapped action film Black Site and is starting fantasy adventure comedy The Portable Door, starring Guy Pearce, Christoph Waltz and Patrick Gibson, on the Gold Coast.

“If you had a company that established that whole infrastructure and all I have to do is rock up with backgrounds and my actors and plug it all in and start filming, that would be a huge advantage. So it’s very smart to develop a facility that accommodates that,” Fellman said.

For filmmakers, the technology means being able to shoot numerous virtual-reality locations, saving time and money on conventional location shoots, as well as cutting post-production costs for traditional special effects.

Pinnacle Films acquisition manager Phil White said the technology was a generational jump on green and blue screens as it placed actors into new environments in real-time by projecting three-dimensional environments, creating the illusion they were in the physical location.

“It means actors no longer have to act against the imagined, but can actually see what they’re reacting to. It helps directors with performances and the shots are also captured entirely in camera, so it removes the need to shoot in green screen and take it to post effects afterwards,” he said.

“It literally, in my opinion, has the potential to be one of the biggest ground-breaking changes in the way film and TV is shot in decades.”

Use of the technology has been made famous by producer and director Jon Favreau in his pioneering filming of the live action Star Wars television series, The Mandalorian.

Taika Waititi’s upcoming star-studded Thor: Love and Thunder, being filmed in Sydney with Chris Hemsworth, uses the same special effects technology as The Mandalorian by the Industrial Light & Magic company.

But the race remains to deliver Australia’s first large purpose-built studio dedicated to the new technology.

“There is going to be huge advantage wherever this pops up first in the country,” White said.

“Even if we’re not first, as long as it is being built here it is important because this is a novelty now, but it very, very quickly will become normal.

“To be first is a massive advantage, but if we’re second by a few months I don’t think it’s going to matter too much. But we’d like the bragging rights.”

The technology would not undermine the advantages the Gold Coast offered by way of more traditional shoot locations, White said.

“Nothing is really going to take the place of a person standing in a real rainforest or on a real beach. Where it comes into its own is the more fantastical locations,” he said.

“And the big money films, like Mad Max, Star Wars and especially the super hero films, demand fantastical locations.

“You can have all the beautiful rainforests and beaches you want, but if you want a triple volcano exploding in your background while you’re standing on a snow covered plain, that’s not something you can find easily. But it can be rendered pretty quickly.

“The advantages of the stunning outdoor locations that we have here will always be a major attraction, this is an added bonus.”

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