Pushing the limits of perception is nothing new for the owner of Devus Design. In his work for clients like Starset, In This Moment, and Queensryche, he has artfully used light to free audiences from preconceived notions and challenge them with sci-fi infused designs that open windows to new possibilities.
It was not surprising then that when the pandemic brought Pugh’s touring and live event schedule to grinding halt, he embarked on a quest to expand his own horizons by immersing himself in learning the art and science of virtual production.
Incorporating virtual effects throughout the production cycle, he is producing content that portrays the seemingly impossible with precise realism, such as a robot looking out over a planetary landscape or a Fuggler stuffed animal moving through a jungle. At other times, he conjures up familiar scenes, like a car speeding through a city street, that. despite their crisp details, are endowed with a transformational, surreal quality.
Although he plans to return to his busy live show schedule once the pandemic ends, Pugh is confident the skills he is acquiring today will be very marketable even when this moment in time passes. Speaking to us from his Scottsdale, Arizona studio, he shared insights into the direction of virtual production.
In your work for clients like StarSet, you often pushed the envelope, creating Sci-Fi looks. Did this prepare you at all for venturing into Virtual Production?
“Definitely, virtual production requires a skill set that is an amalgamation of all of the experience and knowledge I’ve gathered throughout my time in the live event industry.”
You’ve gone whole heartedly into VP. Can you explain why?
“While I’m absolutely putting my whole heart into this new adventure I wouldn’t say I’m “gone”, hopefully as the COVID-19 situation passes I’ll eventually be able to bring my new VP skills to the live world. There’s so much potential for new out of the box ideas in live shows –it’s very exciting.”
Did the lockdown influence your decision to venture more deeply into VP?
“Well it showed me two things. First that I needed a backup for the future – and second that I had plenty of time to learn something new and expand my skills. So, yes the pandemic definitely got me into the VP field faster!
Is Lighting less important in VP than in live shows? Is it more challenging or easier?
“ They each have their challenges. However, with VP the goal is more often achieving realism and capturing a specific mood or feeling. Live events, on the other hand, tend to be more about the exaggeration of emotions, so there’s maybe less subtlety. . With VP you don’t necessarily want the lighting to get your attention — unless it’s to draw your eyes somewhere.
A cool thing about VP is that you can make objects any color you want. Do you play around with “fantasy colors” or do you try to make them as realistic as possible?
“I’ve become obsessed with photo realism. There’s something about being able to trick your own mind. The ability to create any time of day, year or season really excites me. If the scene can trick me when I make it, then I can be confident it will be an immersive experience for others when they see it.”
Some of your VP projects are outdoors. It’s impressive how you convey the time of today with shadows. Can you talk about how you do that?
“There are a lot of things to consider when making a scene that conveys time of day. The ambient atmosphere, such as haze, and ambient light have to bounce off the setting. And, if there is metal surface present there will be reflections to consider. The software we use gives us a lot of control but in the end a lot of it is just changing values until it feels right. Photo references are a very helpful tools as well. The goal is realism, you can tell when it’s natural or not. If it doesn’t feel right then just keep tweaking it.
Can you give us a rundown of the tools you are using?
“Our current software pipeline includes Blender for most modeling and character animations, Unreal Engine for primary composition and secondary animation, a lot of NDI, Resolume for media server, DaVinci Resolve for video editing and substance for materials and textures. There’s a lot of back and forth between the software to make the final products.”
You’ve been doing this for a few months now. What about VP has surprised you?
How surprisingly supportive and small the community is. The same people developing the tech and producing the tutorials are active members of the groups, chats and forums. Most are very approachable and are will to answer questions. It’s nice to be able to go to the ‘horse’s mouth.’ so to speak.
How are you coming up with ideas for your VP projects?
“From a great community, an integral business partner and the world around us. Inspiration is everywhere.”
When the lockdown ends, what role will VP play in your work life?
“Many of the skills work both ways. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring this exciting new technology to live events more. It’s already happening every day. I don’t see this as a new chapter just as new pages in the old chapter.