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NEP Group puts cool images up on concert screens and other displays. And today the company is acquiring three companies as part of a push into virtual production for films, TV, and interactive exhibits.

The Pittsburgh-based NEP has created a new division, NEP Virtual Studios, which includes the acquired companies — Prysm Collective, Lux Machina and Halon Entertainment. This is a good thing for Epic Games, the maker of the Unreal Engine, which has expanded as tool beyond games to filmmaking.

NEP isn’t becoming a production house itself. It will continue to be a technical and creative services partner for content creators around the globe, said Carrie Galvin, the chief strategy officer at NEP Group, in an email to GamesBeat.

“This deal accelerates NEP’s virtual production solutions which start at the creative stage and end with exceptional execution across [special effects], augmented reality, LED stages, and more,” Galvin said.

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Above: NEP Group has acquired Lux Machina.

Image Credit: NEP Group

These deals enable NEP to accelerate its service offering to Hollywood studios and feature film/television production companies. NEP Virtual Studios will operate as a service provider doing everything from LED stages to providing virtual art department and visualization services to productions. Customers will be studios and production companies around the world.

Entertainment industry veteran Cliff Plumer will lead the new division alongside finance and operations exec Jeff Ruggels. Phil Galler and Zach Alexander are co-presidents of the Lux Machina NEP Business Unit; Daniel Gregoire will be executive creative director and Chris Ferriter will be president of the Halon NEP Business Unit.

With the rise in streaming services and consumers demanding content at a faster pace than ever before, producers are under significant time and cost pressure to deliver. Virtual production processes enable directors and creative staff to “see” an entire scene complete with visual effects and computer-generated enhancements live on set, and to restage, revise digital sets, make lighting changes, adjust camera angles, and more on the spot.

This capability to iterate shots interactively has transformed the way movies and shows are made, speeding-up collaboration and production and opening new creative options and solutions, all while reducing costs and often even the carbon footprint by cutting travel and physical set construction.

Above: Putting up LED lights for a big show.

Image Credit: NEP Group

At the same time NEP was targeting opportunities to expand its existing virtual production business, Plumer was building a coalition of creative production and technology specialists to deliver a streamlined virtual production solution. Prysm Collective partnered with pioneers Lux Machina, and visualization leader Halon Entertainment in that effort. Now those companies are joining NEP and fusing their visions.

Plumer has over 30 years of experience in entertainment technology. He has served as CEO of visual effects studio Digital Domain and as chief technology officer of Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Plumer also served as the president of Jaunt Studios and CEO of The Void virtual reality centers. He has contributed to more than 100 Hollywood feature films and television series, including the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Transformers franchises.

Plumer said in a statement he was looking for a partner to help scale the vision for Prysm Collective, and he found an ideal match in NEP. One of the biggest hurdles to accelerating growth in the virtual production sector is that demand, both for stages and the hardware required to build them, is far exceeding supply, he said. Joining with with NEP gives him immediate access to a massive footprint and one of the strongest global production teams in the industry, he added.

Unreal Engine

Unreal Engine 5 can capture an open world.

Above: Unreal Engine 5 can capture an open world.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Prysm Collective, Lux Machina, Halon Entertainment, and NEP all share significant experience with Unreal Engine integration. Prysm Collective is an Epic MegaGrant recipient for development of virtual production cloud workflows. Lux Machina has built multiple LED stages for Epic Games, consulting closely with Unreal Engine developers on new virtual production features. Halon is one of the earliest adopters of Unreal Engine for real-time film and television content creation. And NEP has been using Unreal Engine to service broadcast clients with real-time graphics for several years.

Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri said in a statement that the unification of technical and creative talent in the deal shows real-time technology’s essential role in the future of film and TV production. The teams coming together today are at the forefront of Unreal Engine storytelling for broadcast, movies, and immersive experiences, he said. Unreal Engine 5 is in early access and will launch next year.

Lux Machina

Lux Machina makes technical video solutions for film and TV, broadcast, live events and permanent installations. The team specializes in virtual production, in-camera visual effects, display technologies and creative screen control solutions. Lux Machina is known for its pioneering work facilitating virtual production workflows and stage build-outs for The Mandalorian, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Oscars, The Emmys, League of Legends World Championship 2020 and many more projects across feature film, television, live events, fashion shows, esports, and more.

Halon Entertainment

ILM used Unreal Engine to build virtual sets that it then projected onto giant LED walls.

Above: ILM used Unreal Engine to build virtual sets that it then projected onto giant LED walls.

Image Credit: ILM

Halon Entertainment is a visualization company offering animation, design services, virtual art department, real-time solutions and project management systems to help clients bring their creative visions to screen. Working with major content owners, creators and VFX houses, Halon has contributed real time visualization to productions such as The Mandalorian, The Batman, Suicide Squad, and many other game, film, and television productions.

NEP has expertise in display technology and many aspects of virtual production, and the largest footprint and depth of display capabilities worldwide, with an existing inventory of almost 60,000 square meters of light-emitting diode (LED) screens and operations across 25 countries. Virtual production presents a huge opportunity and, together with its private equity partner The Carlyle Group, NEP is investing in the roll out of new cloud-based workflow products, services and a global network of stages to grow its presence in the film and TV entertainment market.

“We offer services across the entire end-to-end workflow and value chain,” Galvin said.

Founded in 1986, NEP has more than 4,000 employees.

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