Smash Virtual electrifies Chicago with virtual production Master Class

Smash Virtual Production Studios along with Synapse Virtual Production Studios, Framestore and Framestore Pictures hosted a Master Class last week in Virtual Production to a packed audience at Smash Virtual Production Studios.

Smash Virtual is Chicago’s first dedicated LED soundstage, and the event introduced the Midwest to cutting edge filmmaking techniques that are reshaping film, TV and commercial production around the world. 

Rich Lee, DGA (Framestore Pictures award winning director and Synapse Chief Creative Director) and Cinematographer Christopher Probst, ASC (Synapse Chief Innovation Officer) shared their creative approach of blending practical set design with real-time visual effects, along with Andy Jarosz, Director of Virtual Production at Smash Virtual.

Together they introduced filmmakers to Smash Virtual’s LED volume, located ten minutes from downtown Chicago. With the studio’s innovative technology, including 118 feet of pristine LED panels, the instructors were able to demystify the Virtual Production process and its crew efficiencies and economic benefits.

Andy Jarosz explained, “Smash Virtual offers the largest standing LED volume in the Midwest, complete with real-time camera tracking and a highly skilled team of technicians that ensures any project is executed to the highest level of quality.” 

The Master Class gave the audience of over 200 filmmakers a working knowledge of the utilization of an LED volume and how its use streamlines the production process while maintaining the realism that producers seek.

Virtual Production
Andy Jaroz, Rich Lee, Christopher Probst

This Master Class showcased Virtual Production’s potential to drive economic efficiencies and thereby overtake many types of traditional production techniques. In less than two hours, Rich Lee and Christopher Probst directed five completely separate believable scenes. Each had its own unique background, generated either by video playback or Unreal Engine, and its own practical set. 

The first three scenes involved car process using the LED volume. Here the team showed the ease of adding naturally occurring textures like rain and haze while retaining complete lighting control – regardless of the time of day. Coming inside the LED volume eliminated the hurdle of street closures and the need for a process trailer. Even a traditional green screen production presents multiple issues. 

Rich Lee explained, “Shooting a car on a green screen can result in composites that look more synthetic, versus capturing all the organic reflections from the LED panels.”

In less than five minutes, the crew transformed the volume into a more conventional set in the form of a corporate office. The office environment was created with Unreal Engine software to achieve a photo-realistic background. Seeing this down to earth application demonstrated to commercial producers that VP isn’t just for sci fi worlds.

With Unreal Engine software driving the creations of 3D backgrounds, this team of experts showed the realistic depth of these virtual assets and how to replicate pyrotechnical and other special effects – without the hazardous and other issues on a practical set. Giving center stage to the setting of a recent post-apocalyptic music video, Christopher Probst walked through the advantages of shooting large scale set pieces on an LED volume. 

“I urge cinematographers to consider shooting on a volume to avoid the complications of filming at night and be able to work faster while maintaining full creative control of the image on set,” said Probst.

The Master Class concluded with the panel emphasizing the effectiveness and relevance of virtual environments and why they will become the standard in film making. From time savings to budget management, Virtual Production gives filmmakers the ability to produce something that would otherwise be impossible in the real world.

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