On day one of COP28, the first report from NI’s largest Virtual Production Studio, Studio Ulster shines a light on the role of Virtual Production (VP) in reducing carbon emissions within the screen industries.
The research 'Virtual Production’s Role in Carbon Reduction and Net Zero Production in the Screen Industries' highlights the transformative nature of this emerging technology and its future potential to revolutionise workflow while at the same time reducing carbon emissions in the production cycle of film, television, animation, games and other emerging digital entertainment forms.
The research suggested that as major global production companies, including Netflix, aim for net zero targets, the integration of sustainable practices in film and content production will transition from being merely desirable to an essential business investment.
Researchers highlighted the significant environmental benefits of virtual production and outlined how it can reduce carbon emissions by between 20% to 50% or higher, depending on deployment, compared to traditional film methods. Including significantly reducing travel and on-site fuel costs which currently account for half of the industry’s carbon footprint.
The report was commissioned, funded and coordinated by the Design Museum’s Future Observatory programme, in partnership with Arts and Humanities Research Council and supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport via UK Research and Innovation.
Professor Declan Keeney, Interim Chief Executive, Studio Ulster said, “The report demonstrates that Virtual Production is a technology solution that will support ambitions of the screen sector to push towards net zero content production.
"It highlights the very substantial environmental benefits of VP compared to traditional production, finding it can reduce carbon emissions by up to 50%.”
The report shows that in a nascent and emerging industry, opportunities still exist to bring to the fore sustainable design methodologies in technology, developed and designed from first principles for use in VP. The report stated that the potential and pressing need for carbon reductions could notably accelerate innovation growth in the sector.
As Professor Keeney noted, the report also set out the need for more precise methods of carbon calculation within the industry necessary to fully understand the impact VP can have:
“The report also has identified the gaps in the knowledge that need to be addressed before we can fully understand the significance of the role of VP; this includes greater understanding of how the industry can robustly calculate its impact, going beyond traditional carbon calculators, which are a good starting point, to factor in the nuances of VP’s technology stack including power consumption, hardware manufacture and disposal and software and cloud services.”
Drivers and Incentives of Change
The report outlines that to maintain its status as a globally competitive and sustainable production eco-system, the UK must address new reduction challenges present in the screen industries. While VP presents a significant solution, policy interventions and strategies focused on research, training and skills development are essential. The report states that the influence of public awareness about green production practices, as a catalyst for change cannot be underestimated. With larger companies being more influenced by market demands than policy.
The report identifies the need for UK-based companies to evolve into technology and system developers, reducing dependence on external markets and integrating carbon reduction considerations into every design phase.
“Championing sustainability in our industry is not only environmentally beneficial but also commercially strategic. To maintain global competitiveness and sustainability, the UK must address new carbon reduction challenges in the screen industries, leveraging VP as a significant solution. By embracing virtual production, the industry can position itself as a global leader in sustainable screen production and lead innovation in the creation of digital content. However, if Virtual Production is not supported in industry, the competitiveness of our studio offerings in a global market will be greatly diminished.” Professor Keeney said.
This report follows Ulster University’s announcement of a new five-year Research and Innovation Strategy aiming to focus its contribution to global challenges such as climate change, inequality, and social deprivation and ensure its research aligns with societal needs – both locally, here on the Island of Ireland and on a global scale.