Sam Nicholson ASC and Stargate Studios have released a video outlining their work in shooting virtual productions. The test piece was shot by Jody Eldred, and it explores Stargate Studio’s recent test of their newest virtual production techniques using their ThruView process. The ThruView is an integrated system of kinetic lighting, mobile outside-in tracking, high-speed playback, maximum resolution LED screens, high frequency, and a cutting-edge camera system built around the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K.
Stargate previously used a similar setup for the virtual production on HBO’s series Run. That show required the characters to travel across the United States on a train, but production never intended to leave Toronto. “During preproduction, we proved that with multiple Blackmagic Design DeckLink 8K Pro cards we could stream 10 simultaneous streams of 8K footage to the Epic Unreal game engine for real-time playback on forty 4K monitors on a 150′ long train set.”
Utilizing a custom tracking and lighting tool developed in-house, the system was able to deliver a photorealistic moving image, displayed through the train windows, with animated lighting to match the plate, tracked to and composited with the shot in real-time. “We produced the entire series with ‘ThruView’.”
The new test uses the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K which was not available at the time of Run. The URSA Mini Pro 12K is an impressive digital film camera with a 12,288 x 6480 (12K) pixel Super 35 sensor and 14 stops of dynamic range, built into the URSA Mini body. The combination of 80 megapixels per frame, new color science, and the option of Blackmagic 12 bit RAW made the 12K camera appealing to Sam Nicholson and the Stargate team. The oversampling of the 12K gives virtual production teams excellent 8K and 4K images with correct skin tones and the detail of high-end still cameras. The URSA Mini Pro 12K can shoot at 60 fps in 12K, 120 fps in 8K, and up to 240 fps in 4K Super 16. URSA Mini Pro 12K features an interchangeable PL mount, as well as built-in ND filters, dual CFast and UHS-II SD card recorders, and a SuperSpeed USB-C expansion port.
The 12K camera has a new different sensor where it has equal amounts of red, green, and blue pixels and not a typical Bayer Pattern with twice the green as blue and red pixels. This is significant as one of the issues facing virtual production is the frequency response of the LED panels and the quality of the light they emit. Many were not designed or built to be production lighting panels. Industry high-end LED production lights such as the Arri Skypanel, which a team like Stargate Studios might typically use, were designed to help faithfully reproduce skin tones in a studio when captured by a digital camera sensor. While virtual production LED walls are also built from roughly the same LED technology as professional studio lights at one level, they were not designed with the same precise frequency and spectral response. This makes Blackmagic’s improved color capture and management in the camera, along with matching tools such as Resolve, very important in achieving high-quality skin tone results.