Virtual Production: A New Field of Study

Virtual production is a rapidly changing new field of study that is still being defined. As a result, virtual production plays an increasingly crucial role in both traditional film and visual storytelling in film and a variety of emerging media fields. It is altering the way films are created and enabling new kinds of storytelling across a variety of emerging media. It can be applied to all forms of media that employ storytelling, including live stage performance. It encompasses the entire pipeline of the film and emerging media processes from inception to creation to distribution. The focus on virtual production and design will position the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and the Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the center of this change.

Virtual Production

A good story is the starting point in virtual production development, just as it is in film and theatre. A good story creates the world from which all other aspects of the virtual production process flow.

The virtual production process begins at the ideation stage and continues through the writing, production and distribution phases. It has the potential to pervade all aspects of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film from live theatrical performance, to design, technical production, film and emerging media. In the virtual production environment, elements of media are first designed digitally then combined (or not) with footage filmed or “captured” live in a process called compositing. Increasingly, virtual sets and environments are being composited with virtual actors. The virtual process allows for work to be distributed remotely among directing, design, editing, special effects and sound teams using networked information management systems. Digital assets such as virtual sets can be repurposed for use in virtual and augmented reality environments, interactive media and game design, and animation. Finally, the media are distributed to homes and theaters over the Internet.


Design has been a strength of UNL’s theatre and film programs since the 1970s, with graduates having stellar careers in production, scenic, costume and lighting design in major motion pictures, television, theatres and the visual effects industry. Now, students will learn to apply virtual production and design across the spectrum of emerging media from live multimedia performances, to film and television, to interactive and multimodal media, and finally, for augmented and virtual reality.

At the Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, students will learn how to create virtual environments for electronic and mobile game environments and for visual effects and design for film and broadcast television. They will explore how virtual and augmented reality can overlay the live experience through the use of fully immersive goggles, augmented reality on mobile phones, and future technologies. They will learn how to transfer data captured from a live performer and use it to control and manipulate imagery and media such as projections, animated characters and virtual actors.

These new technologies are changing the way stories are told and visualized across an array of media platforms and can be applied transdisciplinarily for uses in the medical, science, architectural, journalism and educational fields, to name just a few.


Storytelling increases in scope within the virtual production environment in three primary ways.

  • Virtual production expands the visual and design vocabulary of film and emerging media by making possible imagery and stories that are beyond what is observable and conceivable in today’s natural environment.
  • The algorithmic processes that drive the virtual production environment allow for stories to be interactive and non-linear, the best example being today’s game designs.
  • Because virtual production is a digital process, it is a transferable one; it allows for collaborations across multidisciplinary teams often working remotely from one another.