Pixomondo's New Chapter of Virtual Production as Part of the Sony Group

Sep 11, 2023

In October 2022, virtual production, visualization and VFX company Pixomondo (PXO) became part of the Sony Group through its acquisition by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Since PXO gave a talk at MIPTV, a content production industry event held in Cannes last April, the synergies between these two parties have become evident.

So, what exactly does PXO offer in terms of virtual production technology? We had the opportunity to speak with Jonny Slow, CEO of PXO, about their innovative techniques and future prospects.

  • Jonny Slow

    CEO of PXO

Bringing the vision of creators, writers, and producers to life

──To begin with, could you explain what PXO does?

We operate in the areas of virtual production, visualization and VFX. Our services are focused on bringing the vision of creators, writers, and producers to life by using the latest technology and creating amazing visuals on screen that don't really exist. PXO started out in VFX about 23 years ago and has since expanded its services to be involved with our clients at earlier stages in production.

There were several game-changing moments in our company's history. One of them was in 2011 when PXO worked on Hugo, a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, featuring extensive CGI and shot in 3D, and which went on to win five Academy Awards, including one for Best Visual Effects. This project put PXO on the map and raised our reputation to new heights.

Throughout its history, PXO has worked on shows that involve dragons, including the Game of Thrones series.

We are also involved with Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, two episodic series for Paramount+. These projects were instrumental in cementing our credibility in virtual production as we transitioned to assisting the producers in adopting LED volume production.

PXO worked on Hugo and Star Trek

We are now seeing a growing trend of collaborating with our clients on visualizing creative concepts at a relatively early stage of production. Thanks to advancements in technology, creators, production and even actors are able to interact with virtual assets much earlier in the process. Our role is to assist in designing the show and its execution, seamlessly merging the physical and virtual elements. The ultimate goal is to create elevated final shots where the audience can't distinguish between the two.

What sets PXO apart is our ability to offer a comprehensive range of services in a single package. We excel not only in creating exceptional artwork but also in providing assistance with physical operations at the studio. This includes designing and building the hardware necessary to effectively implement the technology. In other words, we deliver our extensive experience in visual effects along with the hands-on execution required to display our artwork.

Collaborating with the video game world

──Could you tell us a bit more about the technologies you use?

In recent years, virtual production has gained traction by bringing production backgrounds into studios. In the past, green screens were often used for filming, with the actors and physical sets placed in front of them. The images would then be added onto the green during the post-production process. However, for our LED volume production - also known as In- Camera Visual Effects (ICVFX) - we built an enormous 270-degree LED screen that curves around the set, with an integrated LED ceiling. This allows us to display the artwork we've created, on the screen during the filming in real-time.

An LED screen also serves as a light source, artificially creating realistic reflections and refractions. “That is one of the reasons why most of the people who tried this approach will never go back to the conventional way of shooting,” Jonny says.

Rear projection has existed for many years. However, the major innovation that makes our images so realistic is that we build them inside a video game engine: Unreal Engine. By building the images in a 3D world, we achieve a more immersive experience compared to using flat images. In addition, we track the position of the physical camera in the studio. This allows us to synchronize the movement of the physical camera with the projected images on the wall, creating a false parallax effect.

PXO is at the forefront of this approach, pioneering the use of this real time rendering technique in collaboration with Epic Games, the creators of Unreal Engine. With this innovative process, we have successfully produced many film, episodic and commercial projects.

A behind-the-scenes look at how the Caledon Football Club commercial was made with LED volume production.

Completed commercial

Good compatibility between PXO and Sony

──Last October, PXO became part of the Sony Group. What are your thoughts so far on joining the group?

First, I'd like to say it was a huge honor to join Sony. Many of the people who work at PXO admire Sony as a company and as a brand, since it represents the very best in electronic engineering, video games technology and more. However, Sony doesn't just bring electronics; it also brings Sony Pictures, which we are now a part of. There's Sony Interactive Entertainment as well, which is a very powerful force in video game technology development. Many of the techniques we employ were originally developed for video games but have now found valuable applications in the realm of television and film. Furthermore, Sony's investment in Epic Games establishes Unreal Engine as a close associate of the group, which is hugely valuable to us.

Last April, PXO gave a talk at the MIPTV film industry event. During the event, they discussed their production process and insights on the latest technology in front of creators around the world.

I can also relate to Sony's purpose: “Fill the world with emotion through the power of creativity and technology.” When I read that statement, my first thought was “This could have been written as a mission statement for PXO.” It is the very essence of what we aim to do for our clients and their audiences, so I think it's easy to draw the conclusion that PXO and Sony are a natural fit.

To further explore recent technologies

──What is your focus for the company going forward?

We are currently focused on the application of newly available technology to make production more efficient and sustainable. Technology is moving so fast; it's like being in a candy store. We have to decide which of these things we want to engage with, which are the most important, and which are the most production ready.

We are also working on many exciting projects, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, a live- action remake of a popular animated television series, coming to Netflix in 2024, and Gran Turismo, a Sony PlayStation IP movie scheduled to be released this summer in the U.S. PXO has worked on HBO's Game of Thrones since season 2, and now House of the Dragon specialising in the creation of the dragons, and we're currently working on House of the Dragon Season 2.

Since Sony's acquisition of our company, we have been working closely with them, striving for amazing results across VFX and virtual production. With the backing of Sony, our aim is to become a world-leading company in this space and work even more closely with our clients. And hopefully, along the way, we would like to assist in the development of new products designed specifically for our production applications, so that other companies can also benefit from these innovations.

Gran Turismo movie trailer

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