New Technologies and Takeaways for Virtual Production

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Bob Caniglia, Blackmagic Design’s Director of Sales Operations, Americas 

It’s no secret that virtual production is continuing to gain momentum across the industry. As technology has advanced, filmmakers have been able to rethink their approach to production and post, finding new ways to increase real-time collaboration while saving time and costs.

While some think of virtual production and picture big-budget blockbuster films and cutting-edge streaming series, we’ve seen filmmakers embrace it for all types of storytelling, including features films, independent shorts, music videos, commercials, and television shows – all different budgets, relying on the same technology.

This has only been accelerated by the pandemic, during which virtual production techniques have proven especially useful in helping productions navigate travel bans and maintain safe numbers on set. While COVID-19 has presented the industry with unprecedented challenges, virtual production is helping some filmmakers navigate them – for example, with virtual sets, filmmakers can appear to be shooting anywhere in the world without traveling to the location or dealing with travel restrictions. By bringing the location to them, and immersing it in the actors’ experience, virtual production adds a layer of realism that otherwise would be missing. Even removing COVID-19 from the equation, it’s easier to bring a location virtually to a production than move an entire production team to remote locations. Not to mention, virtual sets allow for greater flexibility at lower costs – as long as you have the right technology as the backbone for your virtual production workflow.

When shooting virtual production, whether using LED walls or green screen technology, the goal is to get as close to the final image as possible in camera. As part of that, high-resolution image capture is an essential piece of the puzzle. 

Quality is key when making computer-generated environments look realistic. Extreme resolutions provide incredible definition, as well as a smoothness that comes from making aliasing invisible when super sampling, which make them ideal for virtual production. Now more than ever before, creatives of all abilities and budgets are taking advantage of the accessibility of high-resolution cameras, all the way to 12K, such as with the URSA Mini Pro 12K.  

The URSA Mini Pro 12K allows filmmakers to shoot at 60 fps in 12K or use in-sensor scaling to allow 8K or 4K RAW at up to 120 fps without cropping or changing the field of view. It has a Super 35mm 80 megapixel sensor, 14 stops of dynamic range, 12G-SDI connections, and Blackmagic RAW image processing, which provide unprecedented resolution and quality for color, keying, compositing, reframing, stabilization and tracking in 4K or 8K. The camera has improved motion rendering, which means filmmakers get smoother edges in 8K and 4K even at lower frame rates. The camera’s high resolution provides incredible detail and definition around objects, making it ideal for working with green screen and VFX, including compositing live action and CG in virtual production setups. 

Filmmakers are also quickly incorporating our recently announced URSA Broadcast G2 camera into their virtual production workflows. With 13 stops of dynamic range, dual ISO, built-in ND filters and 12G-SDI connections, the URSA Broadcast G2 can be used as a 4K production camera, 4K studio camera or 6K digital film camera. For multi-cam real-time virtual production shoots, the URSA Broadcast G2 has a built-in timecode generator, so the cameras can easily be synchronized.

Along with using high resolution cameras for acquisition, it’s also important to have an infrastructure that can support that framework for real-time viewing. By using ATEM Constellation 8K live production switchers, HyperDeck Extreme 8K HDR broadcast decks, Teranex Mini SDI to HDMI 8K HDR monitoring solutions and DeckLink 8K Pro capture and playback cards, filmmakers can feed 8K content to LED walls for real-time display. 

For virtual production with green screens, many filmmakers are relying on Ultimatte 12 real-time compositing processors. Ultimatte 12 can work with both fixed cameras and static backgrounds, as well as automated virtual set systems to create photorealistic composites that place actors in any scene. It has 12G-SDI connections that allow for high frame rate Ultra HD, and its advanced image processing provides fine edge detail where it’s needed the most, like on hair, and smoother transitions between colors or other objects in the scene. 

Ultimatte 12 allows actors to see the virtual sets in real-time while they’re shooting against a green screen, so they can incorporate them into their performances. Additionally, since the compositing is done in real-time through Ultimatte 12, directors, cinematographers and VFX teams can view and make changes to effects during production, which allows for more collaboration and ultimately, can reduce time and costs in post. The ability to evaluate content as it’s being shot is key. 

Virtual production blurs that line between production and post and allows for more creativity to flow between departments. On the post side, our DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, VFX and audio post production software is often used alongside Unreal Engine and other virtual production tools. 

Now that more and more productions have started to see the value, not only from compliance and budget perspectives but also related to increased creativity and collaboration, virtual production is only going to continue to ramp up. It has opened up a completely new approach to content creation, and this is just the beginning.

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