Virtual Production environments encompassing LED volumes are an exciting, revolutionary addition to the background capture techniques used in video and motion picture production. A successor to established techniques like green screen and front and rear projection, this latest technology means that your surroundings are limited only by your background content.
What is Virtual Production?
In basic terms, Virtual Production uses digital cinematography, LED volumes, game engines, and processing platforms to create an unlimited world of virtual environments.
LED Volume Walls
An LED volume wall is a system of linked high-end LED panels used to display video footage or 3D content to form a background behind your actors. In essence, it’s like shooting live action in front of a highly sophisticated, extremely large television screen. Used for productions ranging from streaming series to weekly episodic shows to sci-fi blockbusters, LED volume walls can consist of a mobile setup or a more permanent system (volume stage). Providers such as Orbital Virtual Studios can supply background content, production setup, and project management for your Virtual Production capture.
The integration of Game Engines like Unreal Engine (UE) from Epic Games is essential to the use of LED volumes in virtual production. Content created in CGI and rendered in real time via Unreal Engine is truly three dimensional and completely interactive with camera movement, creating a real sense of dimensionality through parallax motion.
Compositing software such as Assimilate LiveFX, processing platforms from Megapixel VR, camera tracking and CGI solutions from Ncam, and workstations from Silverdraft are popular choices for tying all the visual elements together. Ncam is a 3-dimensional camera tracking solution that sends camera and lens metadata in real time to a content platform such as Unreal Engine. The use of NVIDIA GPU computation is essential to the creation of virtual production content coming from CGI platforms such as Unreal Engine. Helping customers navigate the complex virtual production process is essential. B&H and its Studio division often partner with content and service providers such as Orbital Virtual Studios and Light Sail VR to offer real world solutions. Turn to Newtek for NDI, IP-based tech including virtual sets and editing.
Why You Should Use Virtual Production Techniques
There are many reasons you should consider Virtual Production, including using an LED volume to increase your creative freedom and when dictated by budget considerations. Specific instances might be when:
you can’t physically be there (Mars, fictional worlds created using ICVFX);
it would be prohibitively expensive to bring the cast and entire crew;
the location is in difficult-to-access terrain, such as the middle of an ocean;
you're faced with risky capture methods or settings like a car chase or a tornado.
LED volume walls make it easier for actors to maintain their concentration by surrounding your talent with the environment in which the action takes place. Long shoot days in front of a green screen will send most actors running for the hills, but with a volume wall, they get the next best thing to being there.
Image Based Lighting
Dynamic image-based lighting (IBL) and pixel mapping are key technologies that increase the sense of photo realistic immersion in a Virtual Production environment. Since light emanates directly from your footage playback, it accurately depicts any changes in intensity or hue levels striking or reflecting on your talent. If need be, your subject lighting can then be enhanced by adding on-set fixtures. With volume walls, you also are spared the time-consuming task of removing the annoying “spill” that is often reflected on your subjects when using green screens.
LED Volume Walls and Stages
LED volume walls can be flat, curved, or horseshoe-shaped and can even include ceiling panels for more enveloping coverage. The term "volume stage" is used for a larger, more encompassing LED volume rig set up on a sound stage. Top-of-the line LED panels such as the Roe Visual Black Pearl form the heart of an LED volume wall, while the rigging needed to build the actual wall can be sourced from leading suppliers like Area Four.
Components of Virtual Production Capture
Content displayed using an LED volume wall can be as simple as a wide-open exterior shot of a weather event or as advanced as 3D-processed tracking shots, ultra-realistic car or maritime shots, or spacecraft travel.
The basis of your LED volume wall setup will often consist of a "plate," a film term which refers to the recording of a background landscape, minus any actors or other subjects. A pared-down crew captures this footage using anywhere from a single camera to eight or more synced and aligned cameras to get a simple wide shot or up to a 360˚ field of view.
Large-format, high-resolution digital cinema cameras such as the Sony VENICE 2 and the ARRI Mini LF are popular for Virtual Production capture. Their resolution is beefy enough to handle ICVFX and their shallow depth of field helps to keep the volume wall in softer focus than the foreground, preventing moiré effects on the LED displays.
High quality optical lenses such as the ZEISS Supreme Prime Radiance series are used to capture crisp, organic images with the option of controlled, customized flares. Based on Cooke i/Technology, the Supreme Primes' ZEISS eXtended Data Technology transmits lens data for frame accurate advanced VFX processing.
Dollies, cranes, and jib arms from providers such as J.L. Fisher and Kessler Crane enable you to position your camera exactly where you prefer and to create dynamic, engaging moves, making the most of a volume stage's area.
You may not be trekking from one exotic location to another, but stages can be quite large, so using equipment carts will save time and energy. Check out these Inovativ Voyager Carts for wheeling your camera rig around and supporting DIT setups, editing monitors, and other equipment.
Augment the ambient light of your virtual background using LED panels like the Litepanels Gemini or ARRI SkyPanel series to cover large areas with more diffuse lighting. Turn to the Litepanels Studio X LED Fresnel lights for more shaped light output or use the ARRI Orbiter series or Quasar Science Rainbow series of LED tube lights for programmable, image-based lighting with pixel mapping.
So, if a reluctance to traipse through deserts, alien planets, or suburbia has kept you from pursuing that directing career, just remember that LED volume walls bring the background to you! All jokes aside, the Virtual Production environments created by B&H and our partners provide a truly amazing level of virtual access to a host of locations using the highest-quality visual displays, advanced video capture, processing and compositing software, and more natural-looking lighting.
We look forward to your questions and comments in the provided section, below.
hi there. Since im not able to attend NAP, if i want a consultation on how to setup a virtual production studio, who do i talk to?
Hi Ken! You can get in touch with the Studio by calling 212-502-6356, or online here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/find/shared/b2bHub/theStudio.jsp#studioContactFormor
Thanks for the very interesting article. I’d read about how Lucasfilm used the technology for The Mandalorian but there is a dearth of specific info online, and I hadn’t realized the technology was being democratized for filmmakers who don’t have the budget of Disney.
Hey Fazal, thanks for your comment. We're glad you liked the article!