Lower cost and simpler LED VP solutions for Photo Studios, Creative Services companies, and SMEs
LED virtual production (VP) studios that use tracked cameras and photo-realistic Unreal Engine scenes are incredibly powerful in delivering time and cost savings over traditional location shooting. However, the cost and complexity of these studios can be challenging for companies new to LED virtual production, so its good to know that there are two LED VP alternatives that provide a lower cost and/or less complex entry into LED VP studios; these are plate video VP and 2.5D VP.
The term Virtual Production covers several types of in-camera visual effects (ICVFX) production. Most of these involve combining a photo-realistic Unreal Engine scene with a real-camera’s output, using camera tracking to seamlessly blend together the two image components to create the composite shot.
But there’s another type of virtual production that doesn’t use real-time rendered Unreal Engine scenes and doesn’t require camera tracking. It’s effectively non-tracked LED VP, and we refer to this as plate video virtual production.
It’s actually very common, constituting 50% or more of the content shot in today’s LED studios, and its typically used for driving scenes with cars, or window shots with trains. There is also plate photography virtual production (also known as a LED backdrop) where a photograph is displayed on the LED wall instead of a video.
In plate video LED VP, the LED wall simply displays a pre-recorded video shot from a moving vehicle. The perspective of the video doesn’t change with the camera movement, but then it doesn’t have to for these types of shot, as the video is providing the perception of movement to a static object in the studio e.g. a car.
2.5D VP, in its most basic form, uses still images or plate video but with camera tracking. Small changes in the camera’s position drives small changes in the position of the 2D plate video displayed on the LED wall. These small positional changes create the illusion of perspective change as the camera moves around the foreground subject/object, persuading the viewer that the background content is 3D when it is actually just 2D.
2.5D in its more complex form uses an intelligent High Dynamic Range image (HDRi) and separates out layers of occluded elements in the image, positioning them at different 3D depths. As the camera moves around the subject/object, the different layers exhibit different rates of perspective change, exactly as they would in a true real-time rendered 3D scene, or in real life.
2.5D is a faster way to create photo-realistic pseudo-3D backdrops for virtual production. It is also lower cost and has a lower processing load than a photo-realistic real-time rendered 3D scene. Pre-made 2.5D scenes can be purchased.
Location shoots for photo studios are costly, both in terms of sending crew and talent to the location, and in accommodating any travel or weather-related delays. Bringing the ‘location into a studio’ makes a lot of financial sense, whilst also ticking the green credentials box. Plate Photography or Plate Video LED VP is how this is realised enabled by a photo LED studio with or without an LED ceiling.
For Creative Services companies, the opportunity is to build these plate photography/plate video LED VP studios and offer photo studios (or brands directly) a highly compelling and visually indistinguishable method of creating location stills or location video content.
The advantage of starting with a plate photo/video LED VP system, is that it is lower cost, simpler to deploy, and simpler to operate compared to a fully-featured LED VP studio.
Upgrading to 2.5D only requires a camera tracking system to be added to the camera, whilst upgrading to a complete LED VP studio only requires the content server to be upgraded to support Unreal Engine and sufficient rendering for the LED wall pixel load.
Importantly, every component is re-used during either upgrade, protecting the initial investment.
For corporates who see the value of using a LED VP studio to solve their video quantity and variety throughput issues, but who may not have the budget for a complete LED VP studio initially, a plate photo/plate video LED VP solution makes a lot of sense.
With this solution corporates still get the rapid scene/lighting changeover, the greater video throughput, and can accommodate the wider types of video required.
When the time is right, and plate video VP has been mastered, adding 2.5D capability (subtle perspective changes) and/or Unreal scene capability (full perspective changes), is simply an upgrade.
Cinematic LED studios often feature an LED ceiling. Almost always, these LED ceilings are comprised of larger pixel pitch LED tiles with greater light output compared to the LED tiles used for the LED wall.
The LED ceiling is very rarely in shot as its primary purpose is to cover the talent below in dynamic image-based lighting, creating an even better blend between the talent and the scene displayed on the LED wall behind them.
For corporates/enterprises an LED ceiling may well be difficult to justify on top of a LED VP studio. The good news is that lighting fixture manufacturers have now come up with lights that provide image-based lighting (IBL) but at a fraction of the cost of deploying a LED ceiling.
These lights accept the same video scene feed as that going to the LED wall (adjusted for the light’s position within the 3D scene), blending pixels to create a low-resolution scene light which then washes the correct dynamic image-based lighting over the studio talent or object. This is a highly convincing and cost-effective way to achieve the same effect as having a LED ceiling.
Bendac’s LED VP solutions for the corporate/enterprise market feature these image-based lights, which can be ceiling mounted, stand mounted, or built into moveable totems.
Image Credit: Sumolight Sumosky image based lighting system (IBL)
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