Sue McHugh, Virtual Production manager at RecodeXR in Manchester talks about how the commercial content production landscape is changing to a more sustainable model. If you are looking for the actions where you can make an impact, take at look at the AdGreen resources, and find out more about the carbon calculator.

We launched Recode Studio just a couple of months ago, our doors opened amidst the tail-end of Covid restrictions. The ability to offer production within a Covid-safe setting with minimal crew and limited travel, became our focus and a real selling point for this new tech. However, every studio tour we hosted to potential new clients, we were hearing the same term, ‘sustainable content’.

It quickly became quite clear that brands were increasingly committed to their consumers to promise clearly sustainable products and that included the methods they choose to create their advertising materials.

For some, no stone is left unturned, from what we are able to provide in catered meat-free options to relieving travel restrictions by using remote streamed camera links into the studio space on shoot day.

So, when it comes to creating an advertising campaign for a sustainable product, it is very important to be able to do this in a sustainable way and to be accountable with metrics for the production methods used. Thanks to Adgreen, this has been not only possible but also a real game-changer for our productions.

It’s been really interesting to see how agencies are now actively looking to use Virtual Production to fulfil the sustainability values of the brands they work with. We’ve seen several agencies actually win pitches to deliver campaigns by committing to using sustainable production methods like Virtual Production. The market demand for low-carbon costs on content production, drives the demand for agencies to provide this, which has meant the rise of Virtual Production in TVC’s and social is only continuing to rise.

Since we partnered with Adgreen, we were looking to collaborate on a showcase example case-study and were delighted to team-up with Silver Circle to demonstrate the sustainable benefits of this amazing production technology.

We used Virtual Production to create this content for Wye Valley Gin which will be used to launch their refill cans and reusable glass bottles. We made a number of specific choices within this production to ensure a low carbon footprint. For example, we knew from previous projects through using the calculator, that the biggest impact always comes from the travel associated with location shoots. When you factor in numerous trips such as a location recce, mobilising full crews and talent and even possible re-shoots due to poor weather, it can add up hugely. We filmed everything within the studio, all with our own team and in just one day.

The second biggest factor tends to be the use and disposal of physical sets and when using real kitchens this can add considerably to the carbon calculation. It now seems crazy to us that we’d actually be so wasteful and inflexible in our approach to build a kitchen and then later fill a skip with it! For me this is the greatest delight of virtual production, the visible lack of waste at the end of a shoot is such a pleasure and the fact that the calculator allows us to report back to our clients on this is very satisfying.

Additionally, we always try to keep tabs on all the smaller contributing factors such as offering meet free menus and using resuable plates, water cups etc, it’s amazing to see how all this add up when it’s factored into the calculator.

For Wye Valley Gin, our team created two scenes, the natural forest environment and a modern kitchen scene. The forest was key as the natural location was out of season and would not have given the required visual. This also meant we recorded zero travel for either client or crew to the shoot. The kitchen environment was also critical, requiring a clean contemporary feel but in a colour-scheme which best enhanced the clear glass product with white font and design. Our team were able to create and test the product within the volume until it was just right, the flexibility of our in-house art team working directly with their content on the volume is incredibly flexible.

The pipeline is a little different to a traditional shoot, with much of the work being completed ahead of shoot day. It’s been exciting to work with forward thinking directors and DOP’s who have adapted to this and saw the immediate benefits. One benefit in-particular being that shoot day, is pretty much just that, every detail can almost be pre-determined ahead of the day so the production team on shoot day are able to do what they do best and capture the action they want and with the look and feel they envisaged. Most days we are done and dusted by mid-afternoon with time to spare to grab extra shots and check footage. I can honestly say I don’t ever remember this happening on location shoots or on green screen, more likely the dreaded over-time being the case! Weather or altering lighting conditions is of course never an issue, location restrictions are obsolete and the requirement for huge crews with heavy equipment are no longer a concern. Lastly, and for me, most refreshingly .. the lack of physical set disposal is an absolute pleasure, we no longer see the inevitable skips full of destroyed set. This has also been an added benefit in that the digital set can be re-used at any time in the future for amends to content or slightly altered for a new season or territory. Traditional shoots can now feel very linear and restrictive, once shoot day is over, you have what you have, any anything else would mean a re-shoot.
Company Director, Joe Howden explains how, ‘Since we first launched Wye Valley Gin with its beautiful bottle design, our customers have been asking us what they can do with the empties. Many have commented that they don’t like to throw them in the recycling because it seems like such a waste of a beautiful bottle. This new Wye Valley Gin refill can solves the problem, turning each bottle from a single use container into a bottle for life. Now they can reuse the bottle again and again and throw the cans in the recycling instead’.

Our vision for the future of content production gets brighter every day. As producers, DOPs and directors get to play with this new tool we see exciting new work being delivered to a much-reduced environment cost, exciting times ahead for the industry!

Recode is based at Trafford Park Manchester and offers a turn-key Virtual Production service, the facility offers 100 sqm of LED volume with a 150 degree curved 16M x 4M LED wall.