Digital Pre-Vis: Ask Damocles

Digital Previs

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Dear Damocles

Is digital pre-vis important in film-making today or are story boards still good enough?

Dear Teak

Digital pre-visualisation is an important technology being applied to film development today. However, story boards remain a common method of visualising the scenes from a script.

Digital pre-visualisation and story-boarding are typically part of the development and pre-production stages of film-making. Digital Pre-Vis is a computer-generated form of story-boarding and can include a sophisticated animation of a film or television scene.

Hand drawn story boards continue to be used by many Directors to provide an immediate and inexpensive interaction with cinematography, wardrobe and set designers to conceptualise a written script.

Hand-drawn story boards and the advent of digital pre-visualisation
Hand-drawn story boards for scenes from Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2020 film, Bad Boys 3 (Sony Pictures) from artist Federico D’Allessandro. Courtesy: Tortured Artist Films (

While many directors continue to rely enthusiastically on hand-drawn story boards to outline and sequence their vision for a scene, Digital Pre-Vis is gaining some traction.

The application of highly sophisticated computer graphics engines, such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Unity Technologies’ Unity game engine are allowing Directors to interact more fully with conceptualised visions of written text. This includes rapidly exploring camera angles, set positions, times of day (light) and the differences across camera and camera features to optimise both the artistic elements, production budgeting and pre-production scheduling.

The result is a potential increase in efficiency during principal photography and a corresponding decrease in production costs.

Standing in front of a Dragon.
“Previs for Game of Thrones provided both creative and technical benefits, informing how production integrated live actors and fire elements with the CG dragon.” Courtesy: The Third Floor (

There is even a form of virtual location scouting that is utilising digitised worlds, both our own and fictional, to identify both scene location and layout.

Digital Pre-Vis is also being used for presentation of film and television projects in the form of “Pitch Vis” much as story boards (which can be arranged in the form of a graphic novel) are today.

In addition, the technological evolution of digital pre-visualisation has extended into production. The visualisation capabilities of graphic engines such as Unreal Engine 5 and Unity 2022 allow for photorealistic rendering of vast virtual worlds and a nearly unlimited variety of digital assets. These modern graphics engines provide rendering in real time with interfaces to digital cameras allowing real-time in camera digital effects.

The result has been the use of high-resolution LED screens arrayed around a physical set allowing digital representation of actual or fictional environments within soundstages in what are referred to as “Volumes”. These Volumes are being successfully demonstrated in many higher budget content productions, most notably Disney’s “The Mandalorian”.

Production scene from the Mandolorian, Season 2.
LED screens provide the digital background within virtual stage volumes as with The Mandalorian, on set of Season 2 with StageCraft from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Courtesy: ILM.

The expectation is that such production methods may reduce the time and cost of post-production with digital effects rendered in final form during photography.

The costs of production within the Volume environment remain high compared to most independent film and television production, but these costs are expected to decrease with use and proliferation. In the meantime, physical story boards are likely to remain a highly used traditional means of exploring a Director’s vision for a script.


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