Is Previs Hollywood’s New “Geek” Department?


Welcome to what might be Hollywood’s next department – the Previsualization department. Previsualization or “previs” is a real-time process used for visualizing a movie before it’s attempted, using 3D computer animation tools. Often confused with the visual effects, Previs uses similar software but creates shots that are lower resolution, less highly rendered, and look like a video game.

Why is previs being embraced like never before? Because Previs is getting faster, cheaper, and better. A special effects character like Iron Man might take six months to render in visual effects. A previs shot? A digital Iron Man animated character rig can be mocked up by a seasoned Previs Supervisor in six minutes.

CEO Chris Edwards, of leading previsualization studio The Third Floor located in mid-town Los Angeles, says one of the biggest challenges facing Previsualization Supervisors is that their work is secret. Assets like the Marvel studios shot (above) that shows the previs in a side by side comparison to the visual effects plate or “final shot” – is never seen by audiences. The Director and studio might be the only people who know how many shots were shaped by previs.

But even if previsualization has been kept a secret for years, the process is becoming so detailed, accurate, and fast that it’s being embraced by Directors like never before.

CEO Chris Edwards sees previs as a burgeoning department that might help the vfx industry work through recent economic upheaval, by reinforcing Hollywood as content creators.

Unlike visual effects, Previs touches multiple departments. Edwardsworked with Director Steven Spielberg on Warhorse to effectively explore shots on a computer using digital horses, before the weight of expensive shooting began.

The Previsualization Supervisor job might finally be coming out of the shadows, and into the hot seat.