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Film and TV students put special effects into action with virtual production

School of Cinematic Arts expands facilities at Cinespace Studios

CHICAGO— As movie fans look forward to this year’s Academy Awards, DePaul University film and TV students are putting the future of film into action. DePaul recently expanded its footprint at Cinespace Studios on Chicago’s West Side to accommodate record enrollment in the School of Cinematic Arts.

Virtual production—a cutting-edge approach to special effects—is one of many reasons cinema students are flocking to DePaul. Using the same equipment as Oscar-nominated pros, DePaul students are filming live actors in sync with LED screens, all powered by a game engine.

“I came to DePaul for the virtual production,” said Sophia Lindsey, an undergraduate in the BFA in Film & Television program. “No other school had what I was looking for.”

Special effects in action
Filming a virtual production scene takes a large, interdisciplinary cast and crew. This March, acting students from The Theatre School will join classmates studying directing, animation, game design and more at the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. They plan to film live scenes—written and designed by students—including one set on an amusement park ride.

“Our students are taking creative risks that a lot of big production companies aren’t doing,” says Brian Andrews, assistant professor and chair of post-production. He says virtual production is used to spectacular effect on many Oscar-nominated films, from “Poor Things” to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“’Poor Things’ has this beautiful visual aesthetic that’s loose and painterly. The sequence on the boat with fantastically designed skies and ocean scenes—all of that was done with virtual production,” Andrews says.

Students say experience with virtual production is preparing them for jobs in the industry.

“Taking virtual production at DePaul heavily influenced my career path,” says Julian Nisenboim, an alumnus of the BFA in Film and Television program. He landed a job as a video editor and pitched virtual production to his CEO. Now he is supervising the company’s virtual production efforts.

DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts was among the first in the Midwest to teach and use virtual production. This fall, DePaul is on track to offer minors in virtual production stage operation and virtual production environment design.

“Stage operations are for our hands-on filmmakers, including cinematographers and camera people,” Andrews says. “The environment design side will prepare students to create the 3D environments that take place in the game engine.”

Growing majors and studio space
DePaul recently expanded its footprint at Cinespace and welcomed its largest class yet of film and TV students this year. There are more than 1,500 students currently majoring in film and television at DePaul—a 38% increase since 2019. Total enrollment in the School of Cinematic arts tops 1,900, including students majoring in animation, screenwriting, creative producing and documentary filmmaking.

Late last year, DePaul Cinespace added two additional sound stages for a total of six, which include professional-grade sets, lighting and design. In total, the university now has nearly 60,000 square feet of space on the studio lot. Film and TV production are revving back up in Chicago, and students learn on the larger studio lot where hits “The Bear” and “Chicago PD” are filmed.

A new short documentary on the program features students, faculty and industry professionals discussing the value of DePaul’s virtual production courses. Faculty members Dana Kupper and Susanne Suffredin co-directed the film, which is available online. Andrews hopes the film will spark interest from production companies and partners to join DePaul in expanding the program.

“Virtual production can put any person in any place. From a sports broadcast to a CEO speaking with investors, there are possibilities for this technology across many industries,” Andrews says.

To learn more, visit the School of Cinematic Arts online​.


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