On-Set System Tuning for Virtual Production
The ugly cousin of virtual production is system tuning, it’s not virtual production as such, but system tuning is required to make a virtual production system work. On-set, fast, accurate Virtual production system tuning a crucial part of the virtual production work-flow.
This post will also help other crew members to understand what the VP crew are doing.
From our side as the on-set VP crew, knowing how to integrate components swiftly, knowing what settings to change and how to optimise the system often between shots, thats our job. It’s the VP team working as a unit who are responsible for maintaining a low-latency, stable, performance of the VP system. If your VP crew are asking for access to the camera or lens gears, or if they need a few moments to adjust tracking, here’s what the VP crew are up to.
All systems suffer from bottle-necks, sync issues, networking errors and latency problems. Although system’s assembled from consumer grade components will give consumer grade results. Most consumer grade systems don’t support lens calibration, encoding or genlock / timecode. This inevitably leads to constant on-set firefighting.
A Professional system won’t 100% eliminate the firefighting and tuning process but its integrated softwares and hardwares provide tools to optimise tuning easily live on-set. A professional system achieves this stability and optimisation though its hard battle tested on-set components from its computer at the heart through to the absolute camera tracker. Although a professional system can cost in the region of £100,000+, this would typically be a full service system coming with remote/onsite training, setup and hardware/software support.
On-Set System tuning?
Every system suffer from the same issues regardless of its price. Your main enemies will be frame synchronisation across the system (hardware and software), tracking and chroma keying(real-time compositing). Each one of these will have to be checked before each shot, as the DOP runs across the set and the lighting, tracking perspective and location changes the system will have to be briefly tuned and checked. If not checked a slippy 2 frames, jittery tracking or hard-edge chroma can break any illusion of reality, ruining the shot.
Doing your system check in-between shots, is where professional systems come into their own. The professional systems are designed around on-set use and the optimised tuning, teamed up with a good operator drastically cuts on-set system tuning times, to the point where its almost done on the fly and just requires 5 simple sharp pans from the DP. System stability and checks with a consumer level system take much longer to fix, as they don’t easily allow for fast fix iterations.
Knowing where an issue is in your system is the key to fast on-set tuning. Knowing the difference between a tracking issue or a synchronisation by just looking at a monitor, you’ll need to be as fast with your diagnosis as you will with your implementation. The less you need to worry about the more you can concentrate on the tuning issues at hand. This is one reason why we developed the OSF virtual production computers, specifically designed for real-time production computing, at least we know it’s never our computers that needs the tune up.