Previs helps the director to understand the limitations that he has, especially in the context of virtual sets, seeing what you are actually shooting.

The majority of previs takes place during preproduction. This is the precious time before production begins, when the sky is the limit and the budget seems sufficient. In reality, these days are numbered, and the creatives often find themselves at the mercy of impending production deadlines. Previs teams can help optimize pre-production by combining all of the choices that are being made by the director and their closest advisors into a cohesive blueprint for production.

The filmmaker is still afforded a lot of freedom to change, because change is at the very heart of the previs process. Previs artists are prepared to create multiple iterations of shots to supply their collaborators with options. The best previs artists are solid generalists with an eye for cinematography. They are capable of creating sequences efficiently and effectively. Previs artists must be able to take direction and fill in any gaps in direction. Often, previs artists are confronted with a variety of opinions and constraints. It is the previs artist’s job to balance these influences and to demonstrate the strongest solutions for each project.

Since previs is a collaborative artform, professional previs companies have been formed to provide balanced teams of proven artists that have worked together on multiple projects. These teams operate with a common set of procedures and 3D assets. Standards such as naming conventions have already been established and time is not wasted creating camera rigs, generic characters and environments. In many cases models, animations and effects can be repurposed from the team’s ever expanding library of digital assets. This means that the previs team can hit the ground running the moment a new project begins.

The previs supervisor is in charge of the previs team and is often the client’s primary point of contact. Previs supervisors must be experienced digital cinematographers and excellent communicators. They must listen to the client and then decide how best to use the previs team’s resources to implement the director’s vision. A previs supervisor’s role changes from project to project, but usual includes the following responsibilities:

  • To maintain continuity and to critique the previs artists’ work
  • To maintain an edit of the previs sequences in development
  • To present work-in-progress to the production as requested
  • To suggest solutions and provide options for the director to choose from
  • To block out camera angles with the director live
  • To ensure that every shot is technically possible to achieve
  • To orchestrate the delivery of 3D scene files that can be used directly by VFX vendors
  • To support the live-action crew by providing camera statistics and setup diagrams

At the end of the pre-production phase, the benefits of the previs should be evident across the board. Directors can define exactly what they want, and share the previs reel with their crew. Everyone from the actors to the grips can rally behind that common vision. Meanwhile, producers can use the previs to plan extremely efficient shoots. A well planned film can virtually eliminate the need for re-shoots. Previs also gives visual effects supervisors a sneak preview of the challenges that lie ahead, so that they can focus their R&D on what will end up on screen.