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Bafta-winning design studio Painting Practice, with funding from Clwstwr, has developed a virtual studio app called Plan V that helps creative teams collaborate and make better, faster decisions about everything from set design to visual effects and script changes to camera angles. Painting Practice producer Yassmine Najime explains how it works.

What’s the big idea?

Painting Practice has spent more than a decade working across film and television providing services in motion graphics, animation, visual effects, production and prop design, and concept art. The team knows how important every decision is when developing a new project, in terms of creativity, budget and schedule. Their ambition is to streamline the process between script writing and set building to increase efficiency and lower costs.

To do that, Painting Practice created a virtual studio app called Plan V, which allows production teams to remotely explore 3D environments in combination with other typical pre-visualisation tools. The visualisation software was built in Unreal Engine, an advanced, real-time open-source 3D creation tool. It uses virtual and augmented reality to give a sense of scale and immersion within a set and additional functionality allows users to experiment in real time with lenses, cameras, storyboards, animations and lighting.

This video from Unreal Engine explains how Painting Practice helped directors and producers plan vast sets for “His Dark Materials”

What’s unique about Plan V?

While many design studios are building their own virtual visualisation tools and keeping them in-house, Painting Practice believes in ‘democratising filmmaking’. So, the basic Plan V desktop app is free for anyone to download. The team has also developed a suite of specialist Plan V tools that are available for other creatives to buy.

Who is it for?

Plan V is for any creative looking to use digital tools to pre-visualise worlds before physical sets are built. It can be used by the director, director of photography, art and visual effects teams. For example, the app turns a tablet screen into a camera, allowing a director to record actual shots and angles, or change elements like lighting and then convert all that information into a virtual environment. It can also help the script department decide whether rewrites are needed if previsualisation reveals any inconsistencies or that a scene is simply too expensive to shoot.

How has the Creative Industries Clusters Programme supported the project?

Painting Practice was awarded £85,000 from Clwstwr. Creating pre-visualisation tools is expensive and while Plan V was in development before the funding, progress was limited because of the need to prioritise paid work over research and development. The funding meant the company could dedicate employee time to everything from app development to marketing.

Clwstwr also opened doors for Painting Practice to collaborate with the University of South Wales. As well as giving students invaluable work experience in a live studio, Painting Practice invited students to take part in stress-testing workshops. Students were encouraged to play with the app and see how far they could push the technology before it broke. Those trials helped Painting Practice make improvements. Two of those students now work for Painting Practice as full-time employees.

How has Painting Practice used Plan V?

Painting Practice originally developed the idea for Plan V during work on a Black Mirror series for Channel 4. With the help of Clwstwr funding the team then developed and used the app while working on the BBC series His Dark Materials. The director used the app like a virtual camera to shoot angles for a fight scene before visual effects work began, helping him build a scene as though filmed in real life rather than a pure CGI creation. Plan V was also used to build a hi-res virtual model of a fictional town, allowing the director and producers to make key financial and creative decisions before committing to the physical set build.

Painting Practice: Plan V for visualisation

What has been the wider impact of the app?

In the past 12 months, Painting Practice has run workshops to train other creative teams to use Plan V. To date over 15,500 people have downloaded the suite of tools. The team has also noticed a significant uptick in interest from production teams, particularly when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Because of the work it had already done, Painting Practice was able to offer new and existing clients a way to continue collaborating despite pandemic restrictions on film and television sets. As well as working with the His Dark Materials production team, Painting Practice is now using Plan V on other projects.

What’s next?

Painting Practice would like to keep improving Plan V and create more bespoke tools for specific production departments. The team has been talking to industry professionals about the sorts of tools that would be helpful. However, Covid-19 slowed project work down and the team will need to find ways to continue financing the research and development project. To that end, it has applied for further funding and in the future hopes to develop a business model to sell app-related services.

Yassmine Najime, Painting Practice producer

Yassmine has been working in the Film & TV world after temporarily putting aside her legal career for her love of the big screen.

Allowing her to travel all over the world, her passion for creativity, filmmaking and innovation has been fulfilled through her ongoing work at hubs like Bad Wolf and Painting Practice, on projects such as His Dark Materials, Plan-V and many others.