VIVE Mars Case Study: Virtual Production Helps "Old Fox" Win Big at Golden Horse Awards!

"Hey Travis, did you know that the movie 'Old Fox' used VIVE Mars for virtual production?" Tim messaged me asking. Tim is the marketing manager for VIVE Mars and he had just got back to the office after a trip to Anaheim for Blizzcon 2023. And 'Old Fox' is the biggest winner at the 60th Golden Horse Awards ceremony this year, with seven nominations and winning four awards, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Makeup & Costume Design, and Best Original Film Music. "Did you watch the opening intro video of the Golden Horse Awards?" Tim continued. "Of course, it was very touching!" I replied after taking my first sip of coffee of the morning and just barely beginning to wake up. Wait... does Tim mean the opening short film was also shot using our VIVE Mars? Spoilers... it was.

Thanks to Tim's connection, we were lucky enough to interview Shawn Ma, the production director of Reno Studios. Reno Studios is a production house that provides professional film and television VFX visual effects services, focusing on visual effects design. It is also one of the few teams in Taiwan with LED virtual studios and virtual production capabilities. Shawn Ma served as the virtual production director for both "Old Fox" and the "Golden Horse 60 Intro Video." I thought I could ask him for many behind-the-scenes stories. So, let's get into the interview!

If you have watched the Golden Horse 60 video, you should recognize the scene of driving from Taipei into Hong Kong? (Source: RENO STUDIOS)

Q: Hi, Shawn. Can you introduce yourself and also introduce Reno Studios to the readers?

Sure, I'm Shawn Ma, the production director of the virtual production department at Reno Studios. I'm usually responsible for developing scripts and storyboards with clients, as well as understanding their desired visual effects and how to achieve them appropriately in the virtual production studio space. I also provide suggestions in this regard and try to help them achieve and realize their vision.

Reno Studios has been involved in the production of many film and has received recognition both domestically and internationally. For example, in 2019, "Detention" won the Best Visual Effects Award at the 56th Golden Horse Awards, the Best Visual Effects at the 2020 Taipei Film Awards, and the Best Visual Effects at the 14th Asian Film Awards. In 2020, "My Missing Valentine" also won the Best Visual Effects Award at the 57th Golden Horse Awards. With our rich production experience, professional technical strength, and innovative thinking, we closely communicate and collaborate with directors and production teams to transform creativity into real visuals, hoping to present every inspiration in the best possible way.

Virtual production that integrates real shots and virtual images relies on VR base station tracking technology. (Source: RENO STUDIOS)

Q: Both "Old Fox" and this year's Golden Horse 60 opening video used VIVE MARS. Why do you think these two teams chose to apply virtual production in their filming?

The reason why these two works chose to use virtual production filming is because they required car shots. There are many advantages to filming in a virtual production studio, especially in terms of time and cost. For example, the production time for the Golden Horse 60 short film was not long, and strictly speaking, the shooting time was tight. Most of the actors involved are well-known actors, and it is challenging to coordinate their schedules to appear at the same time. The production team also cannot spend too much time applying for road closures for filming, as this involves many safety issues. Therefore, filming in a virtual production studio is the simplest and best choice.

Moreover, the quality of virtual production filming is not inferior to on-location shooting. Whether it's the reflections in the car or on the actors, they all appear natural. Therefore, both the Golden Horse 60 opening short film and "Old Fox" chose to film car scenes in the virtual production studio.

The entire sequence of Anthony Wong driving a taxi was also completed in a virtual studio. (Source: Golden Horse Executive Committee)

Q: Can you explain the filming conditions for car shots in virtual production?

The car shots in the Golden Horse 60 opening video were filmed using virtual production techniques in our studio. In "Old Fox," there were three virtual scenes used: 80s street scenes, the neighborhood near Liao Jie's house, and a highway. These scenes were all applied to car shots, where the actors would have dialogues and performances inside the car.

Most of these scenes were used for dynamic environments during the car's movement. There was a particularly challenging scene where Mr. Xie had to turn the car around to another direction when giving Liao Jie a ride home. However, because the alley was narrow, it required complex driving maneuvers to complete the car's turning motion. The dynamic background of this scene had to be adjusted to look like the car was actually making these movements, synchronized with the driver's steering wheel operation, to achieve a consistent and realistic visual. Although we rehearsed this process in advance, there were still adjustments to be made on-site. We had to review in real-time and make immediate modifications based on the director's instructions, which allowed us to gain a lot of experience in on-site filming.

"Old Fox" behind the scenes of the virtual studio car filming. (Source: RENO STUDIOS)

Q: Speaking of which, "Old Fox" has many street scenes from 80s Taipei. How did you connect with the art department to ensure historical and cultural accuracy in the film?

Our team referenced many photos of street scenes from the 80s, such as the unique characteristics of shop signs, popular cars and motorcycle brands and styles, as well as the traffic signals and streetlight styles used during that era.

There was one scene that was particularly special, which was the surroundings of Liao Jie's residence in "Old Fox." For this part, the production team actually went to survey the filming location and conducted on-location shooting. Then our team accurately recreated this scene in the virtual production studio to maintain consistency with the on-location look. We also had to pay attention to balancing the quality of the scene and the computer's performance. This process involved several rounds of production modifications and testing to achieve a balance between quality and performance, in order to present the best visual effects.

Q: Additionally, I'm curious about shooting with LED walls. How is it different from traditional green screen shooting? Especially for actors, does it really help them immerse themselves in the scene?

The advantage of shooting with LED walls is that actors can see the actual visuals and better feel the environment and atmosphere of the scene. For actors, this undoubtedly enhances their performances. They don't have to act in front of a green screen with nothing around them like in traditional shooting. Instead, they can experience and see the surroundings in a realistic way. This is very helpful for actors to naturally interpret their roles, just like driving on a real road. There is no need for any special adaptation; the whole process seamlessly integrates into their performance.

Of course, it doesn't mean that virtual production shooting can completely replace traditional green screen shooting. In my opinion, virtual production shooting can coexist with traditional green screen shooting. It depends on the script and storyboards at hand, and the production team's decision on the best shooting method.

This scene is really touching. (Source: Golden Horse)

In the end, I couldn't help but think of the scene where Chang Chen approached Xiao Si in "A Brighter Summer Day."

"What movie is this?"

"This is a... movie that has been filming for sixty years."

"It's still being filmed?"

"It will continue to be filmed."

The dialogue was written with such emotion. I never expected that HTC's VIVE Mars virtual production solution would participate in the highest realm of Chinese-language cinema in this way, after a century. Time and space intertwine, continuously rolling forward like waves, simultaneously inheriting momentum and inspiring innovation, just so that images can continue to tell one moving story after another. I lowererd my head, open the movie ticket app on my phone, and booked two tickets for "Old Fox."

Source: VIVE Blog