News 25.10.21

BUSHFIRE DRAMA FIRES FIND THE REAL IN THE VIRTUAL



Virtual production is where the physical and digital worlds meet, and Australian bushfire drama Fires – from Clickbait creator Tony Ayres – is the latest Melbourne-made production to harness the wide-ranging benefits of this technology.

Inspired by real accounts from people who survived Australia’s catastrophic fire season of 2019-20, Fires used virtual production to realistically convey the ferocity of the bushfires without compromising on safety or the authenticity of the stories.

On Fires, Ayres and director of photography Marden Dean collaborated with the same Melbourne-based company that worked on hit NBC drama series La Brea, further building the virtual production experience and capabilities of local creatives and crew.

Liam Neeson thriller Blacklight also shot complex action scenes using virtual production in Melbourne in late 2020, demonstrating the state of Victoria is leading the way when it comes to innovative filmmaking in Australia.

Hunter Page-Lochard and Eliza Scanlen in Fires. Photo by Ben King.

In the heart-stopping first episode of Fires – which had its international premiere at the London Film Festival in mid-October – two volunteer firefighters, played by Eliza Scanlen (Little Women) and Hunter Page-Lochard (Cleverman), are trapped as the flames overrun their stranded fire truck.

For firefighters, a “burnover” is one of the most dangerous and terrifying experiences and Ayres knew they couldn’t film the scene surrounded by actual fire.

“Virtual production was the ideal way for us to create this experience, especially mixed with real special effects,”

Said Tony Ayres, Creator of Fires

“We had a screen projecting the fires onto the three curved walls of interlocking LED panels. We had real embers and real smoke and real fire in the frame, and so we created as close as we could a similitude of being in the fire,” he said.

Filming the burnover scene surrounded by LED light walls. Photo by Greg Spiller.

Fires was the first foray into virtual production for Dean – an award-winning cinematographer whose credits include feature film Breath and television series The Gloaming and Clickbait – and he immediately saw how much it increased the scope and viability of what can be captured on screen. 

“Virtual production allowed us to film the stories in a way that comes much closer to honouring the incredible existing source material,”

Dean Marden, Director of Photography

“The burnover scene required transitions in background environments and incorporated practical effects such as fire, embers and smoke. Being able to have all these elements play in real time greatly increased the success of these sequences and helped the cast and camera operators respond to the visual cues in sync.” Said Marden

For the actors, the interactivity of virtual production made giving authentic performances easier than if they were in front of a green screen, relying on the emotionally charged scene to come together in post-production.

“We really wanted it to be authentic because it’s still so raw and real for a lot of people,”

Eliza Scanlen, Actor in Fires
The burnover scene incorporated practical effects such as fire, embers and smoke. Photo by Greg Spiller.

Fires is co-created by Ayres and Belinda Chayko for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and produced by NBCUniversal/Matchbox Pictures-backed Tony Ayres Productions. All six episodes of the anthology drama were filmed in Victoria, with the state doubling for neighbouring New South Wales and Queensland.

2021 has been a defining year for Ayres, who also created the Melbourne-made cyberthriller Clickbait. The 10-episode drama hit #1 on Netflix in 20+ countries following its release in August, racking up three times the streaming time of its nearest competition on the platform.

Fires was supported to film in Victoria and undertake post-production in Melbourne through Film Victoria’s Victorian Screen Incentive and Regional Location Assistance Fund.

For more information about filming in Victoria, contact:
Joe Brinkmann
Manager – Production Attraction & Support, Film Victoria.