An unrelentingly tense psychological thriller Mercy Road from Tracks director John Curran is the first Australian feature film to be entirely shot using virtual production.
Teaming up with visionary Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas’ (The Crow, Dark City) Arclight Films and virtual film production company, Heretic Foundation filmed the in-car and select outdoor scenes for the 85-min drama using the LED Volume stage at the purpose-built TDC Studios in Sydney, Australia. Working from a script by Chris Pelletier and Jesse Heffring and starring Luke Bracey (Point Break; Hacksaw Ridge; Elvis), Mercy Road is a white-knuckle ride about a man who is pushed to the limits of his sanity to protect his beloved daughter.
To realise his vision, Curran and cinematographer Ross Giardina (Gold) devised the film to be shot using real-time in-camera compositing techniques at TDC Studios with a workflow designed and supervised by Heretic.
“TDC Studios are at the forefront of immersive virtual production technologies. We were honoured and excited to have worked with Arclight Films and Heretic Foundation to support the production at TDC Studios in seamlessly blending live and virtual worlds and to bring this powerful story to life,” said TDC Studios technical project manager Alex Rendell.
“The power of virtual production is to enable creative talent to bring anything in their imagination into reality. For Mercy Road, we employed a seamless workflow and the flexibility of Unreal Engine and LED screen tech, to place ultimate control into the hands of John Curran. We are proud to have played a key role in bringing the first Australian feature to be entirely shot using groundbreaking virtual production to the screen,” said Heretic Foundation GM and executive producer Andrew Robinson (The Wolverine, Mad Max: Fury Road).
TDC supplied and engineered the bespoke virtual set and space for filming including ROE Black Pearl BP2 LED screens, RedSpy by StYpe wireless optical motion tracking and the latest vx 2 disguise Media Server. The LED screen itself was 11m x 4m while the LED ceiling was utilised.
The TDC team deployed the disguise XR workflow using rx II render nodes to render Unreal Engine scene work live. “Utilising XR for scenes like this becomes very efficient as production staff are able to change out the desired scenery very quickly,” explained TDC video technician Harrison Dow.
TDC collaborated with Giardina to facilitate the pixel mapping of the film’s scenic lighting to make ambient lighting subtle and even more immersive. Two downstage LED trolleys were at the DOP’s disposal to further enhance the scenic ambient lighting.
Filmed during lockdown in July 2021, TDC supported production with a distributed system so that anyone in the studio could remotely watch what was being filmed inside the studio. This was vital due to strict Covid regulations. Similarly, TDC was able to facilitate remote control from an external site for the lighting board operator to meet Covid regulations. Producers located in the U.S unable to be in Australia were able to view dailies during production thanks to TDC’s fast fibre optic connectivity.
For a film in which the majority of the action is set in a car driving through the outback, filming on a virtual production stage significantly reduced total carbon footprint. TDC helped create and construct a roadway set that was in front of Bracey to help him turn into the corners more realistically and naturally during filming, eliminating all petrol emissions from the process.
“The studio is accessible to bring multiple car props in and out and we have loading dock space to be able to do this,” added Rendell. “The client also used our on-site facilities during filming such as dressing rooms, green rooms, meeting space and kitchens.”
The film, which co-stars Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Studio) and Susie Porter (Cargo; Ladies in Black), is produced by Arclight Films’ chairman Gary Hamilton, Ying Ye and Michelle Krumm. Alex Proyas, Penny Karlin and Daniaile Jarry are also producers.
“Mercy Road really pushes the boundaries of new technology and its innovation has been delivered. By utilising virtual production in Sydney at TDC Studios, we had 100 percent control of the filming environment which meant a faster shooting schedule, more dynamic scenery and a safer space for the actors and crew to work in,” said Michelle Krumm.
“Mercy Road is a gripping thriller vividly brought to life by our amazing director, John Curran. The film’s star Luke Bracey is such an exceptional talent who simply ignites the screen and brings the audience along for a wild ride. This is a visually stunning and unique film that utilises cutting-edge technology,” said Arclight’s Gary Hamilton.
Mercy Road is produced with Hianlo Films and financed by Rainmaker Films, Icon Film Financing, Media Finance Capital utilising Screen NSW PDV scheme and Filmology Finance.
The film was released in Australia on 24 August and in North America on 31 August, 2023.