It seems like every other major film or TV show is using virtual production. Whether in front of giant LED screens or more traditional green screens, virtual production is everywhere, but how does one access this technology? To many, it can seem like a massive undertaking that requires a massive budget.
The belief that virtual production is out of reach for most filmmakers is simply not true. Virtual production at its core is a blending together of physical and digital filmmaking techniques that open up a world of new possibilities and brings visual effects (VFX) out of post and into the heart of production. It is a mix of existing production and post production technology and methods, and there is nothing standing in the way for any level of filmmaker thanks to organizations such as Sheridan College and its Screen Industries Research and Training (SIRT) Virtual Production Innovation Hub. The new Virtual Production Innovation Hub is a collaborative space for industry leaders, technology partners and students to innovate, access and discover all aspects of virtual production.
By implementing affordable, yet high quality technology from Blackmagic Design, including HyperDeck Studio Pro recorders and URSA Mini Pro 12K camera, the Virtual Production Innovation Hub is removing the cost and learning curve barriers for filmmakers of all levels to jump into virtual production.
SIRT was established by Sheridan College in 2009 as a destination for training, collaboration and creation for the screen-based industry. It is a leading applied research center that fosters innovation and training through an ecosystem of industry leaders, applied research and cutting-edge technology.
As a leading research facility, SIRT frequently tests different cutting-edge technologies and workflows in the studio. Having the HyperDeck Studio Pros support SD, HD and Ultra HD formats helps ensure SIRT can adapt to whatever the project calls for. Since the HyperDeck Studio Pros can record compressed and uncompressed video in a variety of codecs and frame rates, they are compatible with whatever SIRT is testing, which is especially helpful with SIRT’s high frame rate, stereoscopic and virtual production-related projects.
The HyperDeck Studio Pros’ dual SSD slots allow SIRT to record continuously, and their ability to loop XLR analog audio helps create a natural synching point across the decks. Using the HyperDeck Studio Pros’ SDK, SIRT has created a web-based system to control the recorders remotely, which provides them with even more agility while capturing content.
The Virtual Production Innovation Hub was created to help the industry shift to remote virtual production as a result of the pandemic. Featuring a 40’ x 11’ LED wall, its remote virtual production workflow is designed so people who can’t be there in person can still have an interactive viewing experience.
According to SIRT Production Lead Jason Hunter, “Our goal is to allow creatives to give their valuable input while still adhering to COVID-19 regulations. Our system is designed to allow people who can’t be here in person to have a direct and flexible viewing experience, as well as to allow those who are present to communicate back effectively.”
The Virtual Production Innovation Hub is located in Pinewood Toronto Studios as part of SIRT’s state-of-the-art production studio and lab facility. It’s workflow pipeline relies on an URSA Mini Pro 12K and nine Micro Studio Camera 4Ks paired with Video Assist 3G monitor/recorders, which are fed into the HyperDeck Studio Pros, an ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K live production switcher and a Universal Videohub 72 router. The ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K’s program out is fed directly into a computer using a DeckLink Studio 4K capture and playback card, which allows SIRT to work with any live streaming platform. The team also uses a MultiView 16 monitor to view all of the HyperDeck Studio Pro feeds at once, two SmartView 4K and SmartView Duo monitors, and an assortment of Micro Converters HDMI to SDI and Mini Converters SDI Distribution 4K.
SIRT selected the URSA Mini Pro 12K to be the main camera for recording talent in front of the hub’s LED wall. “We tested several cameras’ shutter compatibility with the LED wall, and the URSA Mini Pro 12K worked exceptionally well. It was able to deal with moiré and scan lines far better than the others,” said Kevin Santos, SIRT’s Junior Film Production Specialist. “We selected the camera for its impressive resolution sizes and high dynamic range, as well as its easy integration with DaVinci Resolve Studio, since we use that throughout the rest of our pipeline. We find DaVinci Resolve Studio’s editing experience very intuitive, and now with the URSA Mini Pro 12K, everything is quite seamless.”
“By creating this remote virtual production workflow with Blackmagic Design cameras feeding into the HyperDeck Studio Pros and ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K, we’re able to record all of our different feeds individually to give to our clients, as well as allow for real time switching to an audience,” Hunter continued. “This is especially important for our virtual production work, as it’s all about getting as close to the final image as possible in camera.
“We currently have a personnel limit at our stage, which means creatives can’t all be in our space at the same time. With our system, we’re able to stream the ATEM program feed to the video conferencing solution of the client’s choice, so they can provide real time direction and feedback. It’s really cool when a key creative can see what’s happening live and see how it’s being processed in real time, even while not in the room.”
“Through our new Virtual Production Innovation Hub, we want to provide opportunities for everyone to try this workflow. Blackmagic Design helps us achieve this by providing a lot of the key technological components to not only record the content, but also establish reliability between our backend technologies,” explained Spencer Idenouye, SIRT’s Virtual Production Lead.
Along with its work with the Virtual Production Innovation Hub, SIRT uses its Blackmagic Design gear to create training and demo videos, record research sessions and more.
“Ultimately, at SIRT we facilitate creative problem solving in many forms. From testing new technology solutions to enhancing workflows, we’re driven to provide the tools that allow creators to succeed in the ever evolving technology industries,” concluded Idenouye. “As a research institute, we respect how Blackmagic Design tries new approaches and disrupts the status quo so to speak. Building this end to end infrastructure with other technology wouldn’t have been anywhere near as convenient and time efficient. With Blackmagic Design, everything works together seamlessly, whether it’s for virtual production or our other research areas across digital cinema, virtual and augmented reality, remote collaboration and more.”