Hot Spots: Dark Slope Set To Expand Toronto’s Virtual Production Capabilities

Now more than ever it feels like content creators across the film and television sectors are expected to do “more with less” as budget-crunching, global inflation and less investment from major players and streamers have had a huge impact on the global marketplace. That said, there are some bright spots in the advancements of technology – particularly in virtual production – that are increasingly opening up new creative possibilities to help producers find cost-effective ways to do more with their budgets.

One company at the sharp end of the evolution of spatial technologies is virtual production and immersive gaming company Dark Slope. Since it was established in 2018, the Toronto-based outfit has been quietly building its virtual production and creative programming through game engines, mocap, green screens and LED volumes, immersive games, animation and HyperReality programming.

More from Deadline

The company, which was founded by Raja Khanna and Dan Fill, is just coming off the back of launching its new, advanced 35,000 square feet virtual production studio in Toronto, which includes two soundstages and an LED volume that sits at 75 feet wide in circumference and 16.5 feet high, making it one of the largest LED volumes in North America. (It’s the second largest in Toronto after Pixomondo, which was acquired by Sony Pictures Entertainment earlier this year).

Dark Slope’s Raja Khanna & Dan Fill
Dark Slope’s Raja Khanna & Dan Fill

To boot, Dark Slope has a team that is well-versed in tech like Unreal Engine production and gaming, and it’s worked across productions for companies such as WarnerMedia, Hasbro, Epic Games, NBC Peacock (Babble Bop!), Aircraft, Nickelodeon International (Ready Set Dance) and many more.

Earlier this month, the company announced a $1.5M ($1M USD) investment from Canadian venture capital fund Relay Ventures, which will be used to enhance the company’s pipeline with AI upgrades as well as investing in IP development for the company. This comes after Toronto-based CG/VFX creator SideFX Software invested in the company in February to help build its new virtual production studio.

“This funding will enable us to expand our capabilities and accelerate our growth, particularly in the virtual production space where we see tremendous opportunity to both service the industry and develop original properties,” says Dark Slope Executive Chair Khanna.

When it first set out in the business, the company’s goal was to be the conduit for newer technologies available to producers in the business and facilitate changes to how content was being made. “We were one of the first companies making primetime television shows and animated television shows without using any animators,” says Khanna.

Now, the company hopes to position itself as a go-to virtual production hub that can not only draw on all of the benefits of shooting within the Canadian system but is also more accessible to productions across a range of budgets as they look to find ways to cut costs.

“LED volume virtual production in the first instance, was servicing just these mind-blowingly amazing CGI productions,” says Dark Slope President Dan Fill. “I think every director, every creator out there was looking at it and thinking they’d love to do that but didn’t have $300M to do so. But, over the last five years, we’ve rapidly watched the talent availability, the availability of tools and the price points come down. There’s a moment in time right now where we believe it’s going to go mainstream and we’re going to be watching all levels of production looking for a solution so that they can elevate the quality of their shows where they’ll be able to produce things faster and more cost-effectively, and it feels like that moment is now.”

Dark Slope
Dark Slope

After last year’s dual SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes resulted in a slowdown of commissions, both Khanna and Fill examined the market and felt there was a “great opportunity” to look to provide a solution for local and international producers and creators “when things turned on again”. “We can see the light now,” says Fill. “That was our belief and so far, it feels like that is what is happening and there really isn’t a player in this space to service that – I think we’re just filling the gap.”

Dark Slope offers a small team of experts to each production to “help advise and support so that they can take advantage of all the different possibilities on the shoot,” Fill says.

When Dark Slope first began in 2018, Fill points to the fact that the company was focused on “creating a mind-altering audience experience – one where you could literally put on a suit in a Ready Player One kind of way and immerse yourself entirely in 3D.” But, he admits, that model “wasn’t very scalable” so Dark Slope looked to use the same components and pipeline, which comes down to “motion tracking, Unreal Engine and a combination of VFX and animation.”

“It’s not that there are no animators but it’s a faster and better-quality production with smaller teams and it’s a director’s dream – they love it. We’re able to provide what we think is a fantastic offering for the audience and it’s focused also on the producers themselves as they take advantage of these tools and utilize them in films, drama, animation, unscripted and nonfiction.”

Khanna adds: “It’s a way to create content that is less expensive, opens up new creative possibilities and is faster and has a smaller carbon footprint.”

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.