The International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE, Local 600) and Art Directors Guild (IATSE, Local 800) united for an unprecedented joint Virtual Scouting Workshop in April that underscored their collective commitment to train members on the next-generation technologies reshaping their respective crafts and underlined their shared union values of solidarity and fraternity.
The Workshop, a joint effort of Local 600’s National Training Committee, the Art Directors Guild and EPIC Games, united dozens of directors of photography, DITs, art directors, set designers and illustrators at EPIC’s Los Angeles Lab at the Innovation Campus in El Segundo for an exclusive online and in-person training session on EPIC’s groundbreaking Unreal Engine virtual reality scouting system.
Both Locals had trained with EPIC’s Unreal Engine separately last fall, but this was the first time both Locals trained together.
Director of Photography Baz Idoine with a training participant.
“This training masterclass combining both guilds was absolutely unique,” said Local 600 Director of Photography Baz Idoine, who co-created the Virtual Reality Scouting Workshop curriculum with EPIC and served as its lead instructor. “I don’t ever remember seeing any training event like this before – that was created and tailored specifically for these two guilds together.”
Dawn Snyder, director of education at the Art Directors Guild, said she was struck how the simple act of gathering members with different skills and expertise in a single location could create a ripple effect of spontaneous, real-time collaboration that could lead to a wave of future creative innovation.
“It was a great opportunity to start creating a learning relationship with Local 600 because our members do work so closely, but sometimes we may not completely understand what another department needs,” Snyder said. “This workshop created a wonderful opportunity to start building that bridge, understand what our fellow craftspeople need and what we can do together to help everyone do their job better.”
During the two-day joint remote and hands-on workshop, Local 600 and Local 800 members were trained on EPIC’s Unreal Engine’s virtual scouting technologies and techniques, including Lidar Scan and photogrammetry of live-action sets; training on hybrid sets, where there is a virtual environment background and physical set foreground; and full CG environment scouting.
“The goal of Local 600’s National Training Committee is to make sure our DPs and our DITs are updated with the most advanced technological changes so that they stay as relevant in their craft as possible,” said Local 600’s National Training Coordinator Richard Negri. “Our mission is to make sure that our union brothers and sisters not only stay employed but make sure they get re-employed, because every job is your last job unless you get called back to do it again. And then, that job is your last job until the next one after that.”As is the case in virtually any new project, creating content that was compelling and informative for both Local 600 and Local 800 members was challenging.
“Scouting in a 3D environment is really complex and incredibly detailed and incredibly valuable for both guilds, and creating information for two sets of ears and eyes to make it understandable and relevant to both was a challenge, but it’s what we had to do for every moment of the presentation, and that’s what we did,” Idoine said.
The Value of In-Between Moments
As equally valuable as the technical knowledge members gained on EPIC’s Unreal Engine were the connections and exchanges that took place between Local 600 and Local 800 members during the in-between training changeovers, which led to impromptu breakout sessions.
These sessions offered Local 600 and Local 800 members a unique freedom to exchange creative ideas outside of the typically frenetic, pressure-packed, on-set environment, ask each other questions, and explore how their craft’s artistry and technology complement and intersect.
“It’s easy to build something for one audience, but when you’ve got two audiences in the same room, you’re inevitably going to have those collaborations that help each other gain this vital other perspective,” Idoine said. “This EPIC training gave guild members the opportunity to get together and access new viewpoints so that everybody’s job works better. This concept of solidarity in the union parallels the solidarity on the set that creates success, because it enables these two guilds to work together well.”
Local 600 directors of photography and Local 800 ADs, for example, shared ideas on color science – how colors in light interact with sensors in camera and impact skin tones in photography – and techniques on textual variables in creating virtual art – like scanning a cell phone to create one in the virtual world – or using EPIC’s Unreal Engine to scout an open field and then build a virtual set there based on it.
“Member feedback on our training programs is a critical piece driving our curriculum,” said Local 600 National Training Committee Chair Rocker Meadows. “We look at every single thing members share, and one of those things was members telling us how great those breakout sessions were – how much members really liked those – so we’ll be making sure we include more of those types of sessions moving forward.”
Because of its partnership with EPIC, these breakout sessions could be VR-based, where a Local 600 member in Los Angeles and a Local 800 member in New York, for example, could collaborate in a virtual space, tour a set together, and discuss such key elements as camera shots, lighting, and set piece placement in real time.
“Everybody was excited about the camaraderie and the opportunity to learn side by side and to do it at a very casual level outside of the stress of the working environment,” Snyder said.
Building Exclusive Connections
One of the motivators behind the EPIC Virtual Scouting Workshop was to showcase the power and potential of VR technology to empower Local 600 and Local 800 members to forge new creative connections and get them together in the same room – even if that room is 3,000 miles away.
“A big focus of this workshop was about conversation and collaboration – getting art directors and DPs and everybody else together in the same space to not only share technical knowledge but also actually meet each other and have conversations and build relationships,” Meadows said. “One of the main takeaways for many of the workshop attendees was the importance of the need for all of the creative stakeholders to communicate frequently and early – and the ability to collaborate with others in that VR space was something members found incredibly valuable.”
Negri and Meadows emphasized the power that union solidarity played in Local 600’s and Local 800’s coming together to create a curriculum for the EPIC Virtual Scouting Workshop that delivered value to all members.
“That solidarity between our two Locals is an important component to highlight, because we worked in lockstep to create an exclusive program that delivered equal value to our members, and that’s newsworthy,” Negri said.
That solidarity has led to an immediate and long-term payoff for both Local’s members – providing them with exclusive access to the connections and knowledge they need to harness the power of next-era technology to translate their artistic visions into real-world creations.
“Part of the mission of the Local 600 National Training Committee is to help our professionals fill in those gaps that you already know but forgot and then add knowledge to your knowledge bank,” Negri said. “These training workshops are about helping members turn knowledge into wisdom so that if and when we do live in a virtual production, 24/7 shooting cycle it’s our members who will be the ones doing it.”
The relationship-building opportunities these training workshops afford, Meadows added, is as valuable a component as any piece of technology.
“It’s incredibly important to foster and maintain a sense of exploration and always be open to learning, because this business is constantly changing,” Meadows said. “These trainings are about not only making your job more fun, they’re also about keeping you relevant and cultivating and maintaining professional relationships. Your skills and knowledge keep you there, but it’s the relationships – the members connecting to other members – that open the door for you. That’s incredibly important, and that’s what these trainings accomplish – an overall sense that we’re all in this together.”