What video games can learn from TV  

Video games might be the relatively new kid on the block when compared to film, TV, and music, but it has quickly become the most profitable industry. While video games have always trended upwards, the recent COVID pandemic certainly put more wind in its sales and drove it to new heights. 

But despite being the biggest entertainment industry around, it’s built on a foundation created by its peers. Would video games be as successful as they are without the lessons it learnt from TV or film? I’m not so sure. So, let’s look at what video games can and have picked up from the more senior industries… 

Pushing boundaries 

As technology has advanced, so too have video games. We’re a million miles away from the likes of Pong or Pac-Man. With the release of the latest generation of consoles – along with the reveal of what Unreal Engine 5 can do – we can push the boundaries of what games can achieve. 

How we tell stories has only become more refined as the room to do more has expanded. And you only have to look at film and TV to see where we’re drawing inspiration from. Some video games want that same level of prestige; to be a defining moment. Today, video games are full of spectacle and drama, pushing more and more. The narrative drives the gameplay instead of vice versa. 

Some have even adopted an episodic format to mimic TV. Where were you when the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead released episode by episode? It was a moment in the industry where everyone was hooked by the story of Lee and Clementine, and it’s because of its TV influences that it managed to be such a hit. 

There’s a bit of Indiana Jones in Uncharted. There’s a touch of Star Wars in Mass Effect. We even see video games cross the boundary to become TV shows and films themselves; HBO’s The Last of Us is sure to be a heart-breaking must watch.


Part of this drive for more emotive narrative is our ability to better capture the drama. Taking a leaf from Hollywood’s book, motion-capture technology allows us to bring an actor’s exact performance to the game. How they move and how they emote are transferred to the game flawlessly. 

We’ve just wrapped on a series of dramatic cut-scenes for a game releasing this summer. Our mission was clear: we wanted to capture the actors’ performance and translate that into the game. Using innovative performance capture technology from our friends Di4D, we were dedicated to getting as realistic performances as possible to translate to the screen. We wanted to tell a story and bring the players into it, too. 

The technology also means the actors can be, well, actors. They can make character choices that reflect who they think they are. It goes along well with the maturation we are seeing in some series. Just look at God of War, which went from a gore-fest hunt for gods to an emotionally driven gore-fest hunt for closure. 

Saying all this, technology isn’t a requirement for a compelling story. The fact that creating a game is more accessible means the doors are open to countless indie developers who can tell the story they wish in a more lo-fi way. Something like Undertale or Disco Elysium are built on a strong narrative foundation and don’t have the same bells and whistles other AAA titles do. Because they don’t need them. It mirrors indie movies, which do exactly the same. 

Video games have taken what TV and film have created and ran with it. Those industries walked so video games could run. And we’re extremely thankful for it. They say we’re in a golden age of TV and film, but I would say we’re in a golden age of games, too. Who knows what the future holds; all I know is I’m excited to see where it goes. 

At REALTIME, we know the importance of a strong narrative, both in your game and in your trailers. To discuss how we can help you, reach out to me at [email protected] 

TV VFX for dummies – Budgeting for your VFX (part 1)

Welcome back to another part of our ‘TV VFX for dummies’ series, covering all of the aspects of the TV VFX outline, from the biggest ideas to the smallest details. Every part of the process is important, and each has its own quirks that might leave you wondering what to do.

That brings us to today’s topic: budgeting for your TV VFX. It’s a huge topic, so rather than covering everything in one massive article, we’re splitting it into two. Each one will be filled with thoughts and advice on the topic, so make sure to check back for part 2 soon. So let’s start by looking at how you can begin to work out rough figures for your VFX budgeting.


Initial ballparking at the script stage

Producers and production companies are often keen to get ‘ballpark’ bids from VFX vendors. This could be while a project is still being financed, or in the early stages of pre-production, when all the key departments are doing their budget estimates based on the latest script versions.

Creating a ballpark cost for a TV series at script stage can be a daunting and difficult task – particularly if the VFX vendor has yet to meet the producer, director, director of photography (DOP) and production designer to get a sense of the creative vision they all have for the series.

The production company or on-set VFX producer or supervisor asking for a ballpark cost often needs one quickly. The temptation for a VFX vendor is to turn around a cost based on average shot costs, rather than providing a cost that considers the relevant methodology and approach for each scene or sequence

Different companies and people bid in different ways. Some will err on the side of caution and allow for any eventuality, leading to a much higher bid. Others will go for the minimum cost for each different shot or sequence, assuming they will adjust the costs later in the process to meet the actual creative brief from the director, DOP and production designer.

The result can often be disappointing – both for the client and the VFX vendor. Clients might receive much bigger ballparks than they were expecting; or, conversely, appealing low bids. Later on, they may find those large ballparks reduce, as the vendor receives more information about the series. Similarly, very small bids can suddenly balloon when the full creative vision for the series is communicated to the VFX vendor.


Separating the asset costs

It’s common to separate asset costs in TV series that contain lots of 3D assets – whether it’s a creature or a spaceship.

It’s useful to do this so the production company knows how much it costs to create the asset in question. Conversely, if the 3D asset is included in the shot cost, the client won’t know how much that creature or asset costs to build.

Personally, I think it’s helpful for clients to know how much an asset costs to build. Often, it is less than they think and if the asset is an important character or creature, it is useful for the client to know then how much roughly it costs each time to ‘see’ that character in the series, but separately.

Once clients know how much an asset costs, it’s helpful for them to then think about using the asset as many times as they can afford. Creatures are relatively expensive to build, but once built, they aren’t that expensive to put into a shot. So if you are going to build an asset, then use it. Or rather, if you build an expensive asset, don’t just use it in one or two shots. 

The other side of that coin is if the asset only appears once in the series, do they really need it? Could they find other ways to use it? For example, if the asset is a digital matte painting, could it be re-used by changing the lighting or time of day?


Keep rebidding

For a production company or producer, the overall accuracy of a budget is extremely important.  The only way to keep on top of this is for the VFX vendor to keep rebidding the series. If a vendor boards a show that doesn’t have a VFX producer or supervisor on the team, they need to rebid the series following the tech recce and throughout the shoot as any key changes are made. 

If a VFX vendor provides a ballpark at script stage and doesn’t rebid the series until shots are turned over (and is not involved with tech recces and on set supervision), there will almost certainly be a dramatic rise in the VFX budget. The changes that happen throughout a shoot need to be communicated back to the vendor throughout and the budget adjusted accordingly.


Budget for clean-up costs

Last – but by no means least – in terms of cost comes clean up. ‘Fix it in post’ is one of the most overused phrases in the TV industry and is not something either producers or VFX vendors really want to hear. For producers, it means unwanted costs. For VFX vendors, it can mean budget for interesting creative shots being spent on clean-up that has no production value or impact.

While there is always a need to clean up unexpected or unwanted items from a shot, too often with a tight shooting schedule, clean-up work involves cleaning up crew members, crew vehicles, and equipment. These costs can be considerable, and they are almost always more than the client was expecting.

So my suggestion with clean up is that you should budget for it. Make an allowance per episode and stick to it. Otherwise, the costs can spiral; on many series, it can take up to 30% of the VFX budget or more.

You can clearly see just how deep the rabbit hole goes when it comes to budgeting. But there is still so much more to this dense topic. In part 2, we will look at what you can do to make the process easier and give VFX vendors a clearer picture of what to expect.

If you need a VFX vendor you can rely on to get the job done to budget and to a high quality, reach out to us here at REALTIME. To discuss further, you can contact me at [email protected].


A guide to crowd replication

The pandemic and its associated restrictions have left many industries with a quandary. How do we go about our business as usual when we’re far from ‘business as usual’? It’s something we’ve all had to adjust to and the TV industry is no different.

Many productions have kicked back into life, albeit with a new way of working. Filming a series or movie has become a puzzle as production teams find novel ways around the problem. Some are going as far as quarantining their entire cast and crew prior to filming, something that is sure to be expensive and outside many productions’ realm of possibility.

While you can figure out an on-set workaround for most issues, what can you do if you need an entire crowd? In our recent survey, we found crowd replication was a key concern for getting TV productions back up and running. With social distancing measures, having a live-action crowd isn’t safe or feasible, unless you want to spend a lot of money paying your extras to quarantine so they can be used to film in a ‘bubble’. Removing them altogether will make your show or film feel lifeless and empty. So what solutions are there?


Defining a crowd

Through a process called ‘crowd replication’, we can create lifelike crowds indistinguishable from the real thing. But what constitutes a crowd? Strictly speaking, the term only applies to groups of above 20 people. Think a platoon of soldiers, a raucous crowd at a football game, or a hoard of zombies. Below 20 people, you could still call it a crowd, but because of the smaller size, you would go about choosing a different workflow.

It’s also worth noting that there is a 2D way to do crowd replication and a 3D way. 2D crowd replication usually involves filming a cluster of people (5-20 at a time) at one spot, moving them, then filming again, on and on until you have filled your scene. That wouldn’t abide by social distancing rules, so isn’t an ideal solution. So we’ll be talking about 3D crowd replication solutions that we can reasonably do in these times.


How to make a crowd – below 20 people

There are several ways you can do this. The first is to film actors against a green screen, decked out in the right costume, and combine them into a group. You could film them together in socially distanced groups and replicate and fill in the gaps with individual people.

The second is to buy CGI models of the character asset you want. These could be individual people or groups. They would be dressed in whatever the model comes with. If you have a group where people don’t need to be unique individuals, such as in a crowd of soldiers, then it’s a good solution. 

But if you need them to be diverse in how they look and dress, it isn’t ideal because you will need to texture the models individually in different ways to make them look different in a crowd. You can always texture models with your own costume, using different software like Marvellous Designer, but this is time-consuming and expensive. However, if you are doing a period show or require specific costumes, then this is the best way.

The final method is to make bespoke character models and dress them with your chosen clothes/texture, which are ‘handmade’ digitally. You can do this through photogrammetry capture of actors in the clothes you want. You can also create ‘bespoke’ costume using Marvellous Designer, but you get a more realistic finish using photogrammetry.


A note about crowd sizes

Something else you need to consider is the size of the people in the crowd, as they appear on-screen. If they are bigger than an eighth of their real size, they aren’t really a crowd. If they’re anywhere between a quarter and half the size they should be, then they need to behave more realistically, otherwise, audiences will be able to spot that they aren’t real actors.

If you ever need to use a ‘featured’ character (as in a ‘main’ character), then this is even more crucial. You would need an incredibly accurate digital double of them. So whichever of the above it is, it will affect how they are made. As a rule of thumb, the closer the 3D character is to camera, the more expressive/ reactive they will need to be and the more realistic. This also affects the cost – so the closer to camera the 3D model is, the more it will cost.

If the character is going to be quarter- or half-size, then using photogrammetry is the usual way. You can also use motion capture of the actor. Another way of doing this would be to use volumetric capture of the actor to create a digital puppet of them. Disney used this method in 2019’s Aladdin for actor Will Smith in his role as the Genie. Weta Digital also has volumetric capture software to create digital double humans, though this is only viable for mega-budget studio movies at the moment.


How to make a crowd – over 20 people

Making bigger crowds is usually done with proprietary software that the big VFX houses have spent decades developing. One of the most well-known names in this category is Massive Software, crowd created using can be seen in the likes of Game of Thrones, I, Robot, and World War Z.

These days, you can also create large crowds with a software called Houdini. It’s an entire kit of essential VFX tools, one of which just happens to be crowd replication. It’s a relatively straightforward way to create simulations of entities that behave in the same way, such as zombies or skeletons.

Another route that is opening up is 4D capture. It’s currently being used by architects to populate CGI cityscapes with people but could easily be adapted to work for TV and film. As technology tends to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if this improves in the years to come and becomes a staple technique. Time will tell.

If there is one takeaway, it’s that crowd replication is possible even in these unprecedented times. If your script calls for a diverse crowd of individuals or an oncoming army of soldiers, it can still have that. There are plenty of digital solutions available that can create realistic crowds and who knows, it might just be your new favourite way to do it.

At REALTIME, our expertise in VFX covers crowd replication, amongst many other specialities. We work collaboratively with you to deliver the results you need. To find out more, reach out to me at [email protected].

How to plan the CG elements for your TV show

Welcome back to another blog in our TV VFX for Dummies series. We’re taking a look at the wide world of visual effects, demystifying the scene, breaking down the jargon, and making the process that little bit more approachable. In today’s piece, we’re looking at how to approach the planning of your CGI elements…

The quality of your CGI work will make or break your production. Poor CGI can take a viewer out of the experience, leaving them with a less than favourable view on your show. You don’t want it to become a forgotten piece of media or the joke of the week on Twitter.

A large aspect of creating high-quality CGI assets is planning their integration into the plates you are shooting effectively. We’ve talked about the CG process before in broad strokes. But whether you’re planning to create a CGI hard-bodied asset such as a plane, tank, or car, or something more ambitious and central to your story like a CGI animal or creature, planning how they will be used in your final project from the earliest stages is crucial.


Planning your CGI assets

The entire CG process is a long and complicated one with plenty of technical jargon. But today we’re going to focus on some specific elements that need completing in the early stages of the project.


Creating your characters

This stage is all about developing the overall look for your creature or the world you are trying to create.

If you are creating a creature, you will need to start by visualising how the creature is described in the script. If you are working on a creature or character from a well known book or story, there may be pre-existing ideas of what the creature will look like. In this case you will be working to develop something based on the clients existing ideas for the creature.

If there are no existing drawings of the creature, or you are working on an original series you will be collaborating with your clients Showrunners, Producers, Writers and Production Designers to help create something that works for the story and the aesthetic of the show.  The creative team will need a concept of what the creature looks like and how it might behave in a scene before they commit to filming. Ideally you do this work in pre-production, when your clients creative team have time to give feedback on your design work.

One of the first things you need to do is lay out some initial character designs in concept art. These sketches help visualise the character or creature you are trying to create. If you are creating a mythical creature of some kind, such as a Dragon or Elf, it is often also helpful to assemble mood boards with reference images of other Dragons or Elfs from other series or films to help inform the design process. Clients will often want to steer away from designs that already exist and reference images can help the VFX studio refine the design approach for the creature. You need to explore different options to find something that matches the overall tone and vision of the creative leads of the production. 

Ultimately, it will come down to the showrunner, producers, writers and director or production designer to feedback on these early designs to start shaping what the final creature or character will look like. In feature film work, you will be driven by the production’s own concept artists and designers, whereas in episodic television, a VFX studio’s own creative teams can collaborate with the production’s in-house creative teams to develop creature and character ideas.

Once you have a creature concept your client is happy with, you can move on to creating a 3D sculpt of the character.


Creating your environments

When creating environments, you will often have to create a completely different ‘world’. This could be a medieval village full of magic or a futuristic cyber-punk city. If it’s based on an already-established book series, it might even be somewhere the audience is familiar with.

When developing ideas for different ‘worlds’ it can be very helpful to create concept sketches to visualise any environments you want to create. Again as with creature work, it can be helpful to create mood boards with reference images for what the ‘world’ might look like. Thse can help to clarify design and tone. Often the clients creative team will have reference images and ideas of their own. However they will also be looking to their VFX studio to help visualise the ‘world’ and create it. It is a collaborative process and in episodic TV, clients will tend to lean more creatively on their VFX studio to generate ideas. In feature film production, there tends to be more early design work led by the production.

When you are designing these worlds, you need to think about the entire geography of the city or town and work out where all the different locations are that feature in the scripts. This mapping out of the ‘world’ of your story will help you plan what 3D elements you will need to build and what areas will remain unseen.

If you have a big budget, you will want to see the whole city or town. But if you have budget restrictions, you may only be able to show the key places most relevant to the story. In almost all cases you will want an ‘establisher’ to reveal the environment, but a consideration for making these work is to include characters from your story.

Once you have created some sketches and reference images that meeting your client creative teams approval, you can start to move onto creating 3D environment work to create mock-ups of environments based on approved concept sketches. These can be based on pre-built library stock assets, such Kitbash3D. 

If you are working at a higher budget level, tools like Houdini can be used to ‘procedurally’ create whole cities and environments. Houdini can ‘learn’ how to create buildings and props (based on parameters set by a VFX artist) and replicate these buildings and props and place them randomly into cityscapes. It’s for this reason that studio movies increasingly use Houdini to create the worlds they are building – whether they are mythical like Disney’s recent remake of Aladdin, or photo-real, like the depiction of a photo real Philadelphia for a flying fight sequence in Shazam. Both cities and all the related props were creating using Houdini.



Commonly referred to as simply ‘previs’, this is where you start to see how the asset you are creating will look and move in the final series or film. This is usualy in a full CGI space – with the characters and environment all in greyscale. Previs is commonly used in animation and feature film production, but as high end tv budgets have risen, it also been used in episodic television.

Previs can be a useful tool to help budget and schedule more efficiently. It can be an expensive tool, so it is often best to pick key set piece sequences that are at a budget level that justify the cost. It can also be helpful to create 2D storyboards or animated storyboards of these sequences ahead of commissioning the previs to really determine the visual approach, camera moves and overall shot count of the previs being created.

Previs is a where you can run through several important questions that will affect the final look of the asset or creature you are creating. How big will it look in frame? How quickly will it move? If it is an asset on its own, how does it fit with the world? If it is a CGI crowd member, how will it look when you have 10, 50, or even 100 people?

This won’t be the final look as more work will need to be done on the asset, but you can start to see the visuals come together. At this point, you likely won’t be able to see them in the exact scene as it will be in the finished production. That step comes next.



When you have your actual footage, the postvis process will give you a brief look at how the assets and film blend together. Basic grayscale, untextured models can be put onto your actual plates so producers, directors, and executives understand how the asset will behave in a scene.

This is an important part of the process if the asset in question is a key component of the production, as with the tripods in War of the Worlds. Regardless, it is still important to know how the VFX will behave in a shot.

Whether this is a large asset like an alien or something as subtle as the fog or smoke that surrounds a scene, it is crucial you can conceptualise how this will interact with the characters in your story.

CG is so pervasive in TV production today that it can’t be avoided. If you want good-quality VFX work, you need to plan ahead. No matter how subtle it is, it still needs planning and still needs an expert opinion.

If you need CG assets for your TV production, consider REALTIME. Our team are experts on the topic and are more than happy to guide you through the entire process. If you would like to hear more, get in touch with me at [email protected].