60 Seconds with Head of Creative Technology at The Mill, Jimmy Gass on Virtual Production, the democratization of tools and rendering on the fly

Meet Jimmy Gass, Head of Creative Technology at The Mill in New York.
Thought July 8, 2020

A master of ambitious game-engine projects, Jimmy spearheads all things ‘real-time’ and virtual -production oriented at The Mill. When not working on powerful visuals and simulations, you can find him tinkering with experimental explorations on the computer or off. His formal training as a painter is the cornerstone in his progression as a creative artist. Never one to settle on any one way to make an image, he has studied multiple disciplines in pursuit of methodology and technique. We took 60 seconds to chat with Jimmy about Virtual Production and his favorite top tech.

 

How would you define Virtual Production?

Virtual production to me is translating real world actions and data into a fully virtual scene that can be navigated in real time. Using simple to complex tools to get real world motion into 3D scenes. Body tracking, face tracking, camera tracking, object tracking all translating into a game engine environment that you can modify any tiny aspect of, and render immediately on the fly.

 

What technological leaps have you seen in the Virtual Production field over recent years?

The democratization of tools. A person can get up and running a simple and effective virtual production studio with affordable consumer products. From tablets to phones, from VR headsets and controllers to personal workstations, there are multiple options to help solve basic virtual production needs. Competition between game engines has definitely helped make these tools much more accessible.

Respawn Entertainmnet | Apex Legends | The Game Awards

How does Virtual Production lend itself to the pipeline here at The Mill? 

It’s been kind of a natural progression of The Mill’s culture. Starting with Cyclops, a custom tool that we developed for real-time HDRI and on set AR visualization, then our real-time character animation platform Mill Mascot, we’re now also using a game engine-driven pipeline for linear VFX films. A lot of the early experiments had a high overhead for equipment and operation. We now have a workflow that is more portable and user friendly, so that even more directors and creatives can take advantage of the responsive edge these tools can provide.

 

What future developments do you think we’ll see in the virtual production world? 

It’s hard to pinpoint. I think that the VP world already has a lot of what it needs around hardware and software. So to answer about what developments we’ll see, I think it’s just making those same tools more easily available and more affordable. We’ll see more people in general in the VP space, and that will just create a race for better and easier to use tools overall.

Mill Mascot

What top hardware and software is in your must-have toolkit? 

Right now I like having a VPN so that we can all use a multiuser editing environment among the team. Get a box with a RTX2080, Unreal, and a couple Vive trackers and you’re on your way to getting a home set up with a handheld virtual camera. Throw in a body tracking suit (there are more affordable options now than ever before) and an iPhone for face capture, and you can stream in a fully motion captured character.

 

What’s your favorite new piece of tech ?

Honestly, no idea. There are so many cool things available these days it’s hard to single any one thing out. I finally got a 3D printer for home so, if I had to choose, it’d be that.

 

You can find our more in our Virtual Production Case Study and get in touch with Mill Experience about Virtual Production by contacting hellox@themill.com.