Posted on Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Virtual Production (and more) on the Rise

We know that traditional studio and virtual production practices are setting the industry on fire right now, so I wanted to continue our exploration of those respective technologies and to talk to the production professionals that are making it happen.

That said, one of the more interesting things for me attending NAB this year was just how many production professionals want to know how to mesh traditional workflows along with virtual production, including how they can do more with what they have and what they should be looking at technology wise in the years ahead. So, we will continue our journey to find out more about some of the current technologies in use, and uncover more about the people that are using those technologies in production today.

After heading over to the Netherlands to learn about ReadySet Studios and the workflows they use, we circled back to New York City to meet up with Joe Jett from Jett Sets to get a look at their workflow.

New York City is always an incredibly busy city with all kinds of production, so it only made sense that it would be the next stop on our world tour production practices and virtual production.

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Joe Jett and we had a couple of great conversations about what is going on with the studio. First, let's dive into some background about Joe, and learn more about how he got started in the production business.

PH: Can you share some of the history of your studio with us? How did it all begin?

Joe Jett: Jett Sets was originally an artists’ studio. Its location so close to Manhattan lures clients impressed by added assets. We have high ceilings, and a large, inviting open area with several offices. There is a full kitchen on the upper floor.

The studio extends to an outside space. I recognized early on that both space and location would fill the void for virtual production facilities conveniently located.

PH: Tell me about your background. Did you have a traditional interest in film production? What sparked your dedication?

Joe Jett: Prior to starting my career, I attended college and majored in Communication Arts with a focus in television and film. After graduating, I was hired by a large corporation with a substantial media and communications department. I worked in their production studios and throughout my stay worked at nearly every technical position there. This was a great training ground for me. I worked with enthusiasm as a cameraman, stage manager, audio assistant (A2), and as a TD - I literally did everything I could. My curiosity knew no bounds.

Upon reflection, I find that over a course of more than 30 years, I have had the invaluable opportunity to work as a technical manager, as an engineer for regional and national sports, entertainment television, cable and network news and soap operas. I also became an independent producer and a member of the DGA. My work in television has also earned me several Emmy awards.

Twelve years ago, I was hired by CBS television to work on Inside Edition, a major news entertainment show. It was the first such show in the country to utilize virtual reality as a production tool. I was an integral part in creating and operating the show in VR. Eventually this led to my starting a company (Jett Sets) and integrating an updated virtual set for Inside Edition. Soon thereafter I left the show to focus on a full-time production company that specializes in virtual production. I pursued my passion and devoted all my time to it.

PH: Can you tell me a bit about your production teams?

Joe Jett: Each member of our creative team comes with an academic background in graphic design. Often these designers have a general degree or a special focus in 3D modeling or architectural design. When any designer comes to my stage, they get an in-depth, rigorous training in production, lighting, compositing, camera-tracking principles over the course of many months. This involves formal training, videos, documentation, as well as hands-on experience in VR production. This type of fast-paced learning prepares them for large scale projects and gives them a foundation for the future.

PH: Tell us about your technical infrastructure.

Joe Jett: Our tech relies on the Unreal Engine, which is the largest gaming engine in the world. It's a multi-billion dollar industry and Epic Games puts millions into research and development. In recent years they have made tremendous strides in creating an engine that can render photorealistic sets, high quality graphics, animations, blueprint programming and much more. Jett Sets is the first studio to use a system that utilizes the UE engine for television and film production.

PH: What's the hardest part of opening and operating a virtual studio?

Joe Jett: One of the challenges involves keeping up with the ever-changing technologies and what I like to call future R & D. This can, of course, be rewarding but it can also take some time, investment, and the bandwidth for research. Companies around the world are always working on the next best thing which includes improving the current technology. We make it our business to understand all these emerging technologies and to utilize them when the opportunity emerges. These days we're working with metahuman character development.

PH: Please tell our ProductionHUB readers more about Jett Sets and how your experience plays a part in your success.

Joe Jett: Jett Sets was the first to use a render engine that uses the Unreal Engine that was integrated and coded for television and film production. This was initially developed by Zero Density which was the first company in the world to build an engine from the ground up using the Unreal Engine for production purposes. Therefore, we've been working with this longer than anyone. Many companies have looked to us for this reason for their VR productions, as well as consulting and training purposes. We also use mo-sys Star Trackers for our camera tracking which was one of the first companies to develop this hardware. mo-sys has won multiple awards for their tech and continues to innovate.

We have also partnered-up, as it were, with well-known special effects and VR companies, designers, and industry leaders for our larger projects. In addition, we feel that our engineering staff are among the best in the business. We've been doing VR longer but have also developed very stringent 'best practice' methods that we utilize for the best results for our clients. We feel that our efforts and hard work have placed us in a desirable position as a market leader.

PH: Can you tell us about some of your high-profile clients? What were they looking for in a virtual set? Why NYC?

Joe Jett: Our clients have been both local to the tri-state area and throughout the U.S. They have included high profile clients such as Universal, Netflix, and WebMD but also independent music producers, corporate entities, and a host of others. Typically, our clients are looking for an alternative to traditional studio production. This can be for a variety of reasons that include lower budgets, enhanced needs for creative solutions, faster turnaround on projects. NYC has been an east coast hub for television and film production for decades. It offers some of the best skilled producers, technicians and creatives but also top of the line studios and production facilities. We've also hosted West Coast productions that had the need to use local talent and for other logistical reasons.

PH: When a potential new client walks into your studio, what is their reaction?

Joe Jett: They are very impressed with our technology because of our high-end gear but also our commitment to photo realism that they can see in the live compositing. This is exemplified with our photo-realistic sets, real time reflections, shadows, and the ability to freely move within a scene. Any concerns they may have had about the complexities of VR production are quickly put at ease when they visit the studio and see how it all comes together with ease and professionalism.

PH: Who is hiring you right now? Agencies? Corporate? Broadcasters?

Joe Jett: Yes, to all! Many of our clients come through a variety of services and sources. Many seek us through satisfied clients. Independent producers, and production companies who are curious about VR find us. Don’t underestimate “word of mouth”. We’ve earned our reputation. Our passion and total dedication to our clients remains strong.

Closing Thoughts

As I have said before, there are a lot of existing production practices and emerging new technologies to explore. Please make sure to check back often to our blog as we have a lot more coverage planned in this space for ProductionHUB readers in the months ahead. It’s going to be epic!