Macro Virtual Productions

We have developed our own pioneering virtual production system designed for macro filming

At Olaus Roe we have developed our own pioneering virtual production (VP) system designed for macro/table-top filming (M-VP). Unlike a typical VP set-up, our system has been created to be specifically suited for macro film work and includes a lot of additional functionality to allow the filmmakers to focus on the shots they are producing whilst the M-VP system automatically adjusts the background environment, movement and lighting to the camera action.

Our compact set-up utilises a high definition LED screen which means a macro lens can be focused at close distance to the background without the appearance of unwanted interference patterns.

Bespoke programming makes our system simple to use, forgiving of lens changes and capable of loading and saving pre-made background scenarios and animation actions in a matter of seconds. Shot backplates can be utilised, but working in Unreal Engine we can create backgrounds to match your requirements that will allow you much more creative control and flexibility on set, in what would normally be unalterable post-production decisions. For example moving the camera to a different position in the environment, change the direction of sunlight, or remove it completely and make it a stormy rainswept night.

Camera operators also have free rein to move a near 360° and the virtual background tracks to follow. Likewise, slide in toward the background or go handheld and movement tracks perfectly. The camera operator can concentrate on the shot, with the confidence that the background movement and interactions will be consistent and timed perfectly each time.

Overview


(Alternatively, a longer, more in-depth video can be viewed here)

If you are filming a smaller subject matter that could be accommodated in a table-top/macro studio shoot, our system would offer you a unique filming opportunity.

Bespoke engineering and programming make our system quick and simple to use, with special features that include:

Examples of Macro Virtual Production

Shot with Red Helium filming in 25 and 50p at 4, 6 and 8k. If you have other technical requirements, please let us know.

Night shot of an Armoured Cricket in a desert environment

Set-up

The system uses Unreal Engine CGI environments for the backgrounds and a virtual studio set-up based around a 75” or 85” 4k TV and a camera tracking system. The illustration below gives a guide for a typical setup:

Macro Virtual Productions

The studio will need pre-rigging with the following elements before the M-VP system can be setup. These studio elements are not included in our costs:

Macro Virtual Productions

(a) 7 x scaffold poles
a. 4 x drop-down poles – reaching down to 2.5m
b. 1 x front-to-back pole to simply drape cables over
c. 2 x cross poles 25cm apart – aligned with the middle of the set

(b) 6 x 13 Amp power outlets
a. 4 x outlets within 1 meter of each IR Base-station
b. 1 x outlet over the middle of the set for lighting
c. 1 x outlet (ideally on a second circuit) for the render & control systems

Note: the power will need to be turned off each night from a common location

(c) A table and chair

(d) At least 4 x 4 meters of space

Note: IR Base-stations can be rigged from wall mounts in smaller studios or in the worst case, from heavy lighting stands, although this would be the least preferred option. If a lighting stand is nudged or moved during filming, it will render the shot un-usable and could damage the equipment which contains a spinning element similar to a LiDAR scanner.

Unreal CGI environment development

The costs for setting up and operating the system are fixed. The building of the Unreal environments and animations depends on the complexity of the scene. By using pre-existing library assets, environments can be built within one to two weeks, with time then being spent on custom elements.

Basic animations can also be included within the environment. Again, if we use library assets built for Unreal Engine, this can be quite a quick process. Alternatively, complex pre-made models can also be converted and included allowing a third-party to supply animations.

It is worth noting however, that in camera the Unreal background is often defocused behind the subject matter, and therefore it is often better to keep the background simple as additional time spent modelling or texturing elements is quite often not seen in-camera. This is what allows us to benefit from the huge library of pre-existing assets.

Live action back plates can also be included, but these require some additional post-production to format them for the system. At this stage, the system is supporting HD footage for the backgrounds, which means they work best when they are a de-focused. Live Action backplates also require a larger foreground setup to help bed them into the scene, otherwise they can appear flat compared to an Unreal dynamic scene. The disadvantage of pre-shot backplates is also that they are not immediately editable to change lighting and weather for example.

As always, planning shots helps. With this in mind, we are always keen to be involved in pre-production and storyboarding. VP shots work best when we can blend the boundary between the real and unreal.

At heart, we are film makers, and always looking for new way to tell stories and entertain the audience. We’ve built this system to help natural history programming capture animal behavior in a new and engaging way. If you have a specific shot or requirement in mind, we are always keen to adapt or change the system to suite. We have lots of other innovations in the pipeline, so if you feel like you need something different please to talk it through with us – we may already be on the case…

The Team

At Olaus Roe we provide the Unreal Engine element of the virtual production setup. For the screen, camera kit and the 30 years of wildlife filmmaking experience, we’ve partnered with Flay Photography. Flay Photography can provide costs for the additional elements required.

Camera

The system has been tested with a Red Helium & Raptor filming in 25 and 50p at 4, 6 and 8k. If you have other technical requirements, please let us know.

Screen

The TV must be 4k, 50Hz with a HDMI input. (with PC Drivers showing the TV as 50Hz)

Flay Photography have a selection of tested screens available, or the screen can be hired independently, locally / in-country.

Rate Card

Andy will be happy to talk further about any aspect of virtual production and how we can help integrate it into your programme. We have in-house Unreal Engine design as well as facilities for all graphics, editing and post production requirements.

As with all our broadcast work our VP is fully scoped and budgeted specifically. At Olaus Roe we're completely transparent in our VP costings, and we pride ourselves on working to a fixed price. We have Package prices to help clients manage production budgets.

Technical

The system uses Unreal Engine CGI environments for the backgrounds and a virtual studio set-up based around a 75” 4k TV and a camera tracking system.

A minimum space of 3 x 5 meters and a height of 2.5 meters is required.

A small desk area is also required for the control and monitoring computer.

4 x IR tracking sensors need to be fixed in each corner of the space. This fixing needs to be to a solid gantry or wall rather than lighting stands.

Ideally power and control cables are dropped down from overhead.

System consists of:

- Tracker control system with 4 x tracker IRs.

- Gen-lock output – BNC.

- 2 x Timecode sync generators.

- Display PC to run the Unreal environment.

- Control PC to launch system and make on-site changes.

Additional requirements provided by Flay Photography and not included in our package:

- 75” backdrop TV.

- Motion control turntable.

- Red Helium camera and lenses.

- Lighting.

- General grip and rigging equipment.

- Props.

Enhancing Creative Freedom

Whilst bespoke Unreal environments still provide the most dynamic Macro Virtual Production (M-VP) backgrounds, at Olaus Roe we value innovation as a catalyst for compelling storytelling. We understand that sometimes there is a delivery requirement to integrate a true photo or video background in a virtual production, rather than building it in Unreal Engine. We have several solutions available, from incorporating simple looped 180/360° footage to advanced NeRF scanning technology to produce virtual backgrounds from real imagery.

Tags: Broadcast

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