Qube Cinema: Choosing a Path to Innovation & Excellence

By Pickle  April 12, 2024
Qube Cinema: Choosing a Path to Innovation & Excellence, Pickle Media

From its inception as a production and post-production services company to its current role as a pioneer in virtual production, Qube Cinema has undergone significant transformations. In this interview with Rajesh Ramachandran, Chief Technology Officer & President at Qube Cinema, unravel the key milestones and pivotal moments that have shaped Qube Cinema’s trajectory and its vision for the future. Building on its legacy of innovation, Qube Cinema has now introduced the Qube ANR Virtual Production Stage and Virtual Art Development (VAD) services. These cutting-edge technologies empower filmmakers to explore new creative possibilities in virtual production, further cementing Qube Cinema’s position as a leader in the field of cinematic innovation. A Chat with Pickle

Can you walk us through Qube Cinema’s journey and how it has evolved over the years?

Qube Cinema’s journey can be delineated into three key phases. Initially, founded by Senthil and Jayendra, we began as a creative services entity focusing on production and post-production services.

In phase two, we pivoted towards embracing technology, which became integral to our identity. This shift allowed us to revolutionize the Indian media landscape by facilitating the adoption of innovative technologies, exemplified by our transition to Avid BTS and robust technology marketing initiatives.

The culmination occurred in phase three, with the birth of Qube. Here, we evolved from facilitators to creators, developing proprietary products and technologies in alignment with the burgeoning relevance of digital cinema. The emergence of high-quality LEDs further transformed production settings, validating our commitment to innovation.

The pandemic in 2020 prompted introspection, leading us to rediscover our passion for storytelling. This revelation redirected our focus towards empowering storytellers with higher quality and more accessible methods, transcending digital cinema and post-production to embrace the essence of storytelling itself.

What prompted Qube Cinema’s interest in virtual production, and how does it align with the company’s vision?

Recognizing the potential of virtual production to revolutionize filmmaking, we actively pursued partnerships in this realm. A joint venture with Annapurna Studios marked our entry into this space, driven by a surge in industry interest, particularly amid pandemic challenges. Despite our focus on virtual production with LEDs and in-camera VFX, the high capital investment required for studio setups poses challenges. Nonetheless, we remain dedicated to driving innovation and accessibility in storytelling, navigating the evolving landscape of virtual production with commitment and expertise.

While virtual production presents immense opportunities, it also poses significant challenges. As the industry navigates this evolving landscape, we remain committed to driving innovation and accessibility in storytelling, leveraging our expertise and insights to shape the future of production.

Can you tell us more about Qube Cinema’s collaboration with Annapurna Studios and its significance in the realm of virtual production?

Virtual production serves as a valuable addition to traditional filmmaking methods, enhancing the overall workflow within studios like Annapurna. Its flexible capabilities shine in tasks like capturing pickup shots and refining performances post-editing. However, for virtual production to thrive in India, a shift in mindset and discipline is essential.

The industry’s historical lack of extensive pre-planning poses a challenge in adopting virtual production, which relies on meticulous pre-production. Additionally, busy schedules hinder thorough planning efforts. Overcoming these obstacles requires not only educating the industry on virtual production benefits but also creating support systems to streamline pre-production processes. By fostering a culture of disciplined planning, filmmakers can fully leverage the potential of virtual production technologies.

Qube Cinema: Choosing a Path to Innovation & Excellence, Pickle Media

What role does Virtual Art Development (VAD) play in Qube Cinema’s virtual production initiatives?

Our Virtual Art Development (VAD) service caters to both educational and professional needs, offering comprehensive solutions for mid-range production houses and beyond. VAD focuses on creating stage-ready assets for seamless integration into productions. For educational purposes, we provide resources and training to empower production houses nationwide in leveraging virtual production techniques effectively.

Our primary focus is delivering professional-grade services to filmmakers, employing generative AI in script development to create pitch books and collaborating closely to develop pre-visualizations and technical visualizations. We optimize assets for performance and quality, ensuring seamless integration into the virtual production environment. Our expertise in tech visualization allows filmmakers to simulate camera movements and lens choices, enhancing efficiency on set and fostering creativity.

Despite the extensive planning involved, we offer flexibility, providing services from pre-visualization to lighting preparation to accommodate diverse client needs. Our goal is to provide filmmakers with the tools and support necessary to bring their creative visions to life, driving innovation and excellence in virtual production.

Do you think big industry players will soon be interested in this?

Industry players are increasingly interested in virtual production, recognizing its potential to revolutionize filmmaking. Major studios and production houses are expected to embrace it more extensively in the coming year, driven by leaders’ willingness to invest in exploring its possibilities.

The transition to virtual production has been gradual, but there’s a growing recognition of its benefits. Filmmakers now understand the value of extensive pre-production planning, which can enhance efficiency and creative freedom.

While early adoption was seen in commercials and short-form content, interest is growing among filmmakers working on full-length projects. Discussions with prominent figures in the industry suggest optimism for widespread adoption.

Adopting virtual production involves collaborative efforts among stakeholders, with a thorough script analysis guiding decision-making. Key decision-makers, including the director, DOP, production designer, and VFX supervisor, must align in their approach.

Ultimately, embracing virtual production represents a paradigm shift in filmmaking, unlocking unprecedented creativity and efficiency through pre-production planning and new technologies.

What are the key benefits of virtual production, and how do you see it shaping the future of filmmaking?

Costs associated with virtual production may initially increase before efficiencies are realized, but it’s crucial to consider long-term benefits. Virtual production offers enhanced performance quality and real-time visualization, reducing post-production needs.

Comparing costs with traditional VFX can be misleading; virtual production provides greater control over composition. While immediate affordability may not improve, AI integration and hybrid methods will drive evolution.

Smaller, agile virtual production stages are gaining traction globally, with India poised to become a hub. Initiatives like incentives and co-production agreements can further support growth.

While immediate cost implications may not be negligible, virtual production offers long-term benefits in creative freedom, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, promising a bright future for filmmaking.

So, in this process do you think that location will not be as important as it is considered today?

No, I don’t believe that locations will become obsolete in the filmmaking process, but the necessity to physically go to these locations may decrease. For instance, in Hollywood productions, drone shots are often simulated on stage due to the logistical challenges and costs associated with shooting in real-world locations like Manhattan. This shift doesn’t eliminate the importance of locations but rather changes how they are utilized in the filmmaking process.

The quality of virtual production is crucial for its success and widespread adoption. While there are no global standards in place yet, ensuring high-quality virtual production is essential. The biggest threat to virtual production is not another technology but rather poor execution. Production designers play a critical role in this process, as they need to embrace virtual production as a tool and explore how it can enhance their craft. By integrating virtual elements seamlessly with physical sets, production designers can achieve the best results, as seen in examples like the Breakfree project you mentioned, where the marriage between set construction and virtual design creates compelling visuals.

Qube Cinema: Choosing a Path to Innovation & Excellence, Pickle Media

How do you see AI and other technological advancements influencing the future of virtual production?

Today, the limitation on the size of virtual production walls is primarily due to the need for realistic visual representations. The goal is to create environments that look authentic through the camera lens, mimicking real locations convincingly. However, advancements in technology, particularly in AI, are beginning to address some of these challenges.

AI plays a significant role in various aspects of virtual production. For instance, generative AI can be utilized to generate initial environments, providing a starting point for further refinement. Additionally, segmentation techniques are improving, allowing for more precise isolation of elements within a scene. This means that even if someone needs to be removed from a shot or certain elements need to be altered, the segmentation process can be more accurate and efficient.

While the current quality of segmentation and layering techniques is already impressive, there is still room for improvement. As technology continues to advance, we can expect these techniques to become even more refined, leading to higher-quality virtual production environments.

There have been significant improvements in virtual production capabilities since the days of Mandalorian. While shows like Mandalorian set a high standard for visual effects and virtual environments, the focus was often on creating fantastical or science fiction settings.

In contrast, for productions aiming for photo-realism, such as those depicting real-world locations like the Indian Parliament or natural landscapes, the challenges are different but equally demanding. However, advancements in virtual production technology have indeed facilitated the creation of more realistic and detailed environments.

For example, there are now highly accurate virtual renderings of Indian locations and foliage, allowing for seamless integration of actors and scenes into these environments. This improvement in photorealistic rendering enhances the overall quality of virtual production shoots, making them more convincing and immersive for viewers.

What is your advice to young people getting into virtual production?

My advice to young people entering the field of virtual production is to embrace the opportunities it presents and focus on honing their storytelling skills. Unlike previous generations, today’s newcomers have the advantage of starting with a clean slate, without the need to unlearn outdated techniques.

Virtual production enables filmmakers to bring their visions to life directly on a computer, with the added benefit of incorporating human performance and photorealism on stage. This creates a new discipline where filmmakers can seamlessly blend digital elements with real-world performances.

For those learning this new approach, they essentially have the entire filmmaking process at their fingertips. They can visualize and plan every aspect of their movie, from camera blocking to actor performances, all within a digital environment. This allows them to focus more on the story they want to tell and the quality of the performances, rather than getting bogged down by technical details.

Therefore, my advice would be for aspiring filmmakers to embrace this new mode of storytelling, focusing on the narrative and the art of filmmaking, while leveraging technology to enhance their creative vision. By doing so, they can fully harness the potential of virtual production to bring their stories to life in innovative and compelling ways.

Do you believe that the segment of festival films, known for their meticulous planning and disciplined approach, will embrace virtual production?

Certainly, festival films, with their disciplined approach to pre-production and efficient use of resources, are well-suited for virtual production. By leveraging this technology, they can optimize their on-stage time and minimize costs, making it a valuable tool for independent filmmakers. As more works of this nature adopt virtual production methods, economies of scale will come into play, further driving down costs and increasing accessibility.

At Qube, our aim is to support and encourage smaller productions to utilize our services. We’re committed to providing solutions that meet the unique needs of filmmakers, and we anticipate seeing more innovation and advancements in virtual production technology in the near future. We’re actively collaborating with leading hardware providers to develop cost-effective solutions tailored to the Indian market, ensuring that filmmakers have access to the tools they need to bring their visions to life efficiently and effectively.

You’ve paved the way for digital cinema, but does that mean we can replicate the same success in virtual production?

The key is recognizing our role in this evolving landscape. As we move forward, we’re not just embracing virtual production; we’re also integrating AI into our processes. Through QUBE Studios, our aim is to democratize virtual production, making it accessible to all. This has been our focus for the past couple of years, and it remains our aspiration moving forward.

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