Mobile Virtual Production for Rent – A More Affordable Approach for Indie Filmmakers

Mobile Virtual Production for Rent – A More Affordable Approach for Indie Filmmakers

Everybody has heard of LED-Volume. (If not, take a look at our article on how to create authentic footage using mixed reality). However, almost no indie filmmaker or low-budget project producer would think of it as a relevant tool for their shoot. Why? Because the huge LED walls are damn expensive, and creating naturalistic-looking environments needs extra time and manpower. Well, turns out, that’s not the case anymore. What does mobile virtual production for rent offer, and when can it be interesting even for indie filmmakers? Let’s dive into the world of state-of-the-art technology together!

Mobile virtual production was born out of the question, “What if?”. What if we can take the best parts of parallax worlds, shrink the dimensions of LED walls, and make the whole setup affordable for much smaller productions than the famous Disney+ series The Mandalorian? This question was also the starting point for Varyostage – a recently launched mobile virtual production for rent, developed in Germany.

There are enough enormous studios with 300 square meters of LED walls. But the bigger the screens are, the more expensive the overall technology is: hard- and software, as well as required rendering servers, etc. At the same time, a lot of projects, shot in mixed reality, don’t even take advantage of the setup’s size. That’s how we realized: we need something compact and affordable, yet functional.

Thomas Gottschall, executive producer on THE TERMINAL and one of the creators of Varyostage

It’s not the first company on the market to explore this approach. (For example, the start-up Magicbox was quite vocal about it around a year ago). And surely, we will see this evolve in the near future. But because I saw Varyostage’s presentation live, we can use their example for our discussion about what this kind of setup can and cannot do, as well as take a look at some of the other approaches out there.

Mobile virtual production for rent: what is it?

Let’s go back to “normal” virtual production for a moment and recall its basic idea. Imagine a created 3D environment (completely abstract or, on the contrary, with a high degree of photorealism – doesn’t matter). Now put it on a huge LED wall, which will serve as the background for our actual scene. Such a scene may involve just a single character, or be enhanced with thorough set construction elements. The rest is virtual, yet not static. The 3D environment reacts to the camera movement in real-time and changes the perspective accordingly. As a result, you get a very convincing shot with correct reflections (if we’re filming a new shiny car, for example) directly in the camera. Also, there is no need to replace a green screen in postproduction or another challenging VFX whatsoever.

Live demonstration of the standard Varyostage mobile setup. Image source: CineD

As you see in the illustration above, mobile virtual production offers exactly that, but on a smaller scale. In this case, the background screen’s dimensions are 6,5 x 3,5 meters. The standard setup also includes two extra screens for reference lighting (we will talk about it in detail below), a tracking system for the camera, a server, and a bunch of pre-made realistic-looking environments which you can switch between with simply a click. According to Thomas Gottschall, it takes approximately half a day to set up this mobile virtual stage. Plus, you can easily transport it in a van to your clients (assuming they have a hall with a 4-meter high ceiling and a high-voltage power connection) or other desired locations. This makes it quite a convenient tool, and – most importantly – brings down its cost immensely. Especially when compared to the traditional LED Volume.

Lighting with LED screens – the new level of naturalistic results

As mentioned above, Varyostage’s approach includes two extra LED screens (measuring 2×2 meters each), which are not relevant for the shot per se, but focus on providing the correct lighting for the foreground elements. They also are positioned in the created 3D environment, which can be moved easily if we need another camera angle. This way, the light and the reflections naturally match the virtual setup, capturing the tones and shading of the surroundings, like the sky, the branches of the trees, the shining desert sand, and so on. At the same time, these are only screens with rather moderate output, so you will still need some stronger film lights on set to simulate the sun or support other sources. Another solution to this problem could be image-based lighting, like the one from Quasar Science that we talked about here.

Quasar Science Rainbow 2. Image source: CineD

Simply put, these are long, tubular LED fixtures that are programmed to simulate and interactively match the lighting conditions of the image playing on your backdrop screen. You can combine several, hang them from a ceiling, or rig them at the side of your talent. In other words, whatever you wish, depending on the look you’re after. The trick is that this system recreates the light extremely accurately, up to pixels, and has a powerful output.

What does tracking bring to the table?

The next important question concerning virtual production, in general, is live tracking. Of course, if you only film from sticks and don’t move your camera, just skip this section. Otherwise, we will need to give the Unreal Engine (the software most commonly used for the creation of 3D environments in mixed reality) the coordinates of the real camera and its position. Traditionally, the big VP stages have an optical tracking system mounted on the ceiling, but with mobile virtual production (Varyostage’s example), you can use special, easy-to-transport floor mats with tracking points.

Setting up the background for the LED wall on a specialized Pixera server. Image source: CineD

What they will do is capture the rotation and position data and initially pass it on to the server, which renders the chosen 3D environment. As you see in the photo above, there are already specialized hubs like the one from Pixera, which take over difficult technical tasks. They act as the main interface between the live technology and the Unreal world – meaning that the final user on set (for instance, a DP) can adjust the settings quite intuitively. For example, moving the position of the virtual sun, if you need it at a different angle in the shot, is a quick and easy action. And you don’t even need to have Unreal skills for it.

By the way, when we talk about environments that appear on LED walls, we don’t only mean full 3D-rendered scenes with different layers. In some cases, a high-resolution plate may suffice. You can either shoot this background footage yourself or rent it from a specialized library. To give you an idea of how high-quality 360° VFX plates are made and what gear to use, we have an exciting interview with the American company PlatePros. These guys have worked on motion picture productions like Joker, Stranger Things, and Irishman, and also offer a library with pre-made plates that you can buy for your project.

Best features of the mobile virtual production for rent

Why would I, as an independent filmmaker, take the mobile virtual production for rent into account for my film projects? First of all, it allows me to switch between locations very quickly (in 30 seconds). Also, I don’t need to transport my crew and equipment to another set and spend 2 more hours setting everything up anew.

Let’s imagine I’m filming product shots of sneakers in four various scenarios and weather conditions. How long would it take me for real? Depending on shoot complexity and logistics, a day or two. In virtual production? Mere hours. Not to mention that I can’t control the weather in real life, whereas, in the 3D world, it’s a walk in the park. The sun freezes in a beautiful blue hour phase for ten hours straight with little to no extra effort.

Mobile virtual production and rapid change of prepared locations on Varyostage. Image source: CineD

It also means that I don’t need to scout locations or organize complicated filming licenses. And in terms of a CO2 footprint? Just think of the fuel consumption or the extra flights you can avoid if you only need, let’s say, a beach feeling in a commercial. You may argue: why not just use a green screen? Well, with virtual production you also have the additional advantage of minimizing the need for extensive visual effects (VFX) and reducing the time required for postproduction, as we discussed above.

Another specific advantage of mobile virtual production versus a stationary one is its scalability. If you shoot small objects, you can go for a setup with screens of reduced size. And in case you’re a photographer who just needs to take pictures of models in different locations for a catalog, it’s possible to spare the tracking technology, renting only the LED background and the lights. Flexibility is an important point, and the mobile virtual production for rent offers it for sure.

The costs of mobile virtual production

The Varyostage team compared an exemplary shooting day in 4 various real locations with one that used mobile virtual production. In the first “real” scenario they included a full-frame camera, gimbal, manpower (camera operator, assistant, director, makeup artist, stylist, lighting technician), location scouting and fees, some travel expenses, and also insurance. The “virtual production” case featured the same filming equipment, identical creative crew, studio rental fees, travel expenses, 2 days of preparation for the Unreal setup, and licensing for 4 pre-existing scenarios.

In the end, they arrived at a similar total: approximately 20.000 Euros for each of the production variants. The big difference to consider though is how realistic is it to film at 4 different locations during one shooting day. And how much overtime should one calculate if they want to try it out in the real world?


Okay, we talked through the advantages of mobile virtual production for rent. Let’s now take a look at its limitations. Under which circumstances would you probably NOT use it?

  • As on Volume or any traditional mixed reality stage, you should beware of the moiré effect. That means: you cannot place the focus on the elements within the 3D environment, only ranging it between the different plains in front of the screen. So, if you need to make a focus pull from the face of your character to a specific tree in the background, where another action takes place, virtual production is definitely not your solution.
  • The same rule also works for the shoots where the surrounding location plays an important role. Due to its size limitations, mobile virtual production won’t allow you to capture any beautiful wide shots.
  • Other scenes where LED walls are still ineffective include complicated staging, like a long tracking cable cam shot of a character running through endless trees in a dimly lit forest. However, at the same time, you could also combine different technologies using their main strengths. For example, you could film a car establishing shot on a real location and the whole interior dialog scene inside it using backplates in the virtual production.


As AI continues to rapidly advance in creating realistic 3D environments, virtual production will continue to grow and play a more significant role in both the film and video industries. It is crucial to stay informed about the latest tools entering the market. I’m sure (and experts agree) that virtual production won’t replace real shoots completely, yet it’s an exciting technology to consider in your creative concepts. And now it’s accessible not only to high-end Hollywood productions.

And what are your thoughts? Can you imagine using mobile virtual production for rent in your video projects? Which possible applications come to mind? Let’s talk in the comments section below.

Feature image source: CineD.

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