Small scale Virtual Production a big hit

March 27, 2023

Thinking small to stand out

Virtual production is usually associated with huge wraparound LED walls for big budget movies and TV shows. These have unquestionably driven the technology forward, but smaller, more modest Virtual Production installations are now gaining ground.

German production company Kropac Media produces TV commercials for a wide range of clients. According to founder Berti Kropac, virtual production ensured the survival of his business during the COVID pandemic. Using a diminutive LED wall and creative thinking, his studio crafted engaging content which seemed free of quarantined restrictions. One day his studio could be shooting on a Caribbean beach, the next another world entirely.

Thinking small to make money

Smaller walls can often be used for car shots, product shots or other shots where a large background simply isn’t needed. A smaller LED wall may be the perfect solution for providing the view out of the window of a foreground set, the background for an interview or for productions that use a lot of close-up work such as cosmetic or fashion commercials.

Smaller walls also take less time to setup and are easier to move – they can even be mounted on wheels to easily move around a studio as needed. A single wall could be used for different views out of a set’s windows by wheeling it from one window to the another to suit the camera angles required.

Crystal LED wall and VENICE digital cinema camera at Sony’s DMPC facility at Pinewood.

Thinking small to save money

The success of virtual production is helping drive down costs while making the technology and shooting techniques easier. Moreover, many costs scale down – a smaller LED wall isn’t just cheaper, it means you can use a smaller render farm to generate on-screen images and power consumption is lower. Overall, the cost to establish a Virtual Production space or “Virtual Volume” becomes much lower. Using Unreal Engine, sets can be quickly populated with virtual extras to make scenes appear more believable – without need for acting fees or bathroom breaks.

Thinking small to save time

Many studios make use of relatively small green screen backdrops but switching to virtual production can allow for faster turnaround times. A LED wall means you can see how your final shot will look as you shoot. There’s no need to worry about the quality of your key, there is no green spill – instead you have spill with true to life colours adding to your realism. Semi-transparent objects, fine hair etc that present some serious challenges when using green screen are not a problem. If you are filming shiny or reflective objects you will get realistic looking reflections of your background.

We do not have to limit ourselves when writing scripts anymore. We can go to New York or shoot onboard an airplane as often as we like…. Virtual Production has enriched our way of production and we’re only at the beginning. With every project, we learn more and become more creative, more daring.

Director and DoP, Berti Kropac

Choosing the right technology

When choosing an LED video wall, the main things to consider are its brightness and contrast, the colour accuracy of the wall and the pixel pitch. When using a smaller video wall, the pixel pitch is particularly important as it’s likely that the camera will be closer to the screen than it would be with a larger wall. If the pixel pitch is too large, then you may have issues with rainbow moiré patterns.

In general, screens with smaller pixel pitches also tend to be brighter as more of the screens surface can emit light. Sony’s B-Series Crystal LED walls are specifically optimised for virtual production with an exceptional peak brightness of 1,800 nits, an anti-reflection coating and a choice of 1.5mm and 1.2mm pitch. The latter allows you to get the camera much closer to the wall or to use longer focal length lenses without issue.

Crystal LED’s 1,000,000:1 contrast range also helps to create a seamless virtual production environment by producing backgrounds with convincing blacks and brilliant highlights. These deep blacks allow you to have deep background shadows that will more closely match the real world’s foreground shadows. Pair this with the exceptionally wide colour gamut of Sony’s VENICE digital cinema cameras and you will be assured of consistent colour accuracy with excellent skin tone reproduction and a very wide dynamic range.

Sony Crystal LED B-Series on show at IBC 2022.

IBC 2022 with Sony Crystal LED B-Series screen illustrating small scale virtual production implementation.

Thinking small to innovate

Virtual production brings remote or exotic locations to the cast and crew. In a virtual volume you control the weather and the time of day. It’s even possible to move a small LED wall between different studios if necessary. All these things help to make virtual production a highly efficient and cost-effective way to shoot many different types of projects, both large and small.

This article features imagery from multiple Kropac Media projects using equipment from a variety of manufacturers.