The NZCS was fortunate to facilitate a live webinar discussing Virtual Studio Cinematography with NZ-born, US-based DP Barry “Baz“ Idoine, while he was in Auckland recently during lock-down in October.
Baz has rapidly achieved a high profile as cinematographer for his work on “The Mandalorian”, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single Camera Series in 2020 amongst other awards, and has recently wrapped shooting in Sydney on “Thor: Love and Thunder”.
He was joined by a local panel with an interest in Virtual Production, including DP Dave Garbett, Harry Harrison from X3 Studios, Richard Lander from Avalon Studios and Victor and Amber-Marie Naveira from The Granary.
Baz was very forthcoming with his experience and knowledge in this field and explained the in-depth intricacies and challenges of the virtual production process in great detail.
Some of the interesting insights from the discussion included the following:
• Baz had the luxury of working with a top-end system in LA, which featured a volume (seamless collection of LED screens) 23m in diameter, 7m high with a 270 degree array of screens including a fully domed ceiling. A similar studio set-up is also in use in Sydney now.
• A wrap-around volume as above, is invaluable for reflective surfaces such as the Mandalorian character’s shiny chrome costume, but its a mis-conception that the volume will provide all the lighting needed. Invariably, supplementary lighting is needed off camera or behind the subject to provide contrast and modelling.
• The frustum (specific area of screens in the camera’s field of view, which will move as the camera tracks) is allocated higher resolution than the screens outside the field of view, to economise on processing power. The outside screens can have independently controlled brightness levels and areas which helps their use as light sources or “light cards” both as fill light or anti-fill negative sources.
• This is primarily a single-camera medium, although two cameras are often used, with the limitations being; there can only be one frustum in view at a time, and the “B” camera must be able to see that same area of screens as the “A” camera.
• The Emmy Award for “Single Camera Series” needs to be renamed, as its a legacy from the earlier days of single-camera film production versus multi-cam studio sitcoms like “Cheers” and “Friends” - whereas most productions invariably use more than one camera nowadays.
• Volume shooting is not limited to fanstasy/science fiction genres, and can be adapted to any script requirements with certain limitations: for example, situations involving interaction with a large crowd of extras are probably not best suited to shooting in a volume. Its also not easy to replicate daytime exterior hard sunlight situations on a Virtual Stage, which is more suited to soft ambient lighting.
A recording of the 90min webinar discussion is available for NZCS members on the NZCS website here.
Thanks to Baz and all the contributers to the discusssion, and host Alex Glucina from KiwiCinematographer podcast series.
~ Donny Duncan NZCS, Professional Development Manager