Undoubtedly the phenomenon of virtual production has taken the world by storm, unfolding its myriad applications and possibilities day after day. In the wake of its ascendence, many ancillary services that enable its full potential have come to the fore.
While rear projections have been around since the beginning of motion pictures, what makes virtual production or more specifically; its key aspect in-camera visual effects stand out is the sophisticated combination of LED walls, game engines, simulcam and the availability of photorealistic assets.
At VAM summit, the presentation titled “The Democratisation Of Virtual Production – How disguise can help you use LED on set” by disguise EMEA Technical Solutions manager Lanz Short and chief commercial officer Tom Rockhill dived into the intricacies of virtual production solutions; both software and hardware by disguise; a company that has been perfecting this craft for over two decades now.
The Offerings Of Disguise
Explaining the offerings of disguise, Rockhill shares, “At disguise we make a software product which is a previsualisation tool; a 3D engine where you can design a physical space and then we make hardware products that deliver that content into that physical space with LED or Projection.”
Having been in the industry for over 15 years, Disguise, he informs, is now the number one industry standard tool for concert touring, rock & roll tours, events, shows, live broadcast events, the IPL, eurovision song contests and award ceremonies.
Simply put, if somebody is trying to do something that is unique and complex with a video in a psychical space, disguise is an industry standard tool-set for delivering which covers a broad range of avenues ranging from music festivals, building projections, music videos, theatre, opera etc.
Projects & Experiences
Rockhill informs that they’ve lent services to many well-known brands across the world. Illustrating how they excel live environments primarily with an example, he shares, “The Youtube tour has been through India a couple of times actually. All of the videos and visuals that you see, the high-end set up and the high resolution videos that are played and manipulated on LED surfaces; all of that is controlled, mapped, managed and delivered using the disguised technology stack. So our background is coming from the live environment.”
Breaking down as to how their technology assists in bringing stories to life in a live environment which according to him is not much different from the VP (virtual production) filmmakers are exploring, he explains, “For instance, Imagine Beyonce is about to go on stage. You have a system which is designed to be able to make sure that every pixel goes to every LED at exactly the right time. And have one person managing that live scenario. If you think about it, this is exactly what is happening on set.”
Rockhill notes what producers don’t want to happen on set is the complexity of having lots of people working in different software programs and real-time engines, trying to get things going and making things look good.
He elaborates, “You’ve got talent, producer and director; all in one place at one time. You need to know the video, the LED surfaces and the LED walls are going to be behaving exactly the way you need them to behave. So you have a software product which is a 3D visualiser. We make a range of hardware products which can scale up to be able to deliver whatever video you can create to a physical space be it 100’s of projectors in a big projection or hundreds of meters of LED or a virtual studio.”
Statue Of Unity
Citing their recent project, he shared, ”You may also have seen the statue of unity in India. All of the projections on the statue of unity that happen every night; all of that is running inside of disguise as well which gives you an idea of the scale and high profile types of events and shows we’re involved in.
Partnerships & Integrations
One of the key features of disguise as a platform is the set of integrations that they have evolved over the years with some of the major stakeholders in the virtual production ecosystem.
Rockhill shares, “We integrate with many different programmes to become a bit of platform. And we’re very pleased to be a part of Unreal Engine and Netflix working closely with the team in India.”
Having built and supported systems for over 15 years, Disguise now has worldwide presence. Headquartered at London, it has offices in LA, New York, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo.
He shares, “So if you’re in Mumbai or Tokyo or you’re in LA. You know you can pick up the phone and speak to somebody all around the clock. We make systems that document it and make training programmes around them. So you always know that the boxes you buy from Disguise has a whole team around it supporting, leaving nothing to chance.”
What Makes Disguise Unique?
The difference between building a system that is using Unreal Engine for your virtual production studio and building your own, he informs, is the knowledge that the team at disguise is bringing out new features, new releases and supporting it round the clock.
He expounds, “So what’s been happening over the last, say the last year really since the beginning of 2020 is we’ve been speaking with many studios about how they can use the Disguise toolset for delivering complex realtime environments on set.”
Case Studies & Stage Builds
Many people around the world who are building LED stages for production, performance, virtual events, virtual concerts, mixed reality and broadcast studios are turning to disguise as a reliable, robust and scalable platform for delivering the Unreal Engine workflows in a physical space.
Rockhill adds that they recently helped a VFX studio in Spain who are a big championhouse of Unreal Engine workflows. “So they’ve built their own systems using in-display and have migrated that to a disguise backbone,” he shares.
Since the beginning of last year, disguise has been involved in many many stage builds across the world owing to a moratorium of large gathering and live events.
Speaking about stage-builds they have assisted various studios with, he details, “We’ve been involved in stage builds all around the world. This is one in San Fransico. We are partnered with XR stage in Los Angeles; quite a high profile set up running a disguise system We have stages that have been built for performance in Vegas. We have stages that have been used for corporate events. This is an SAP global conference where provided our services. We have stages being used by broadcasters. This is a mixed reality stage for the broadcasters in Spain. We have stage being used for experiential and experimental kind of XR type applications.”
Partnership with Epic
Speaking of their partnerships, Rockhill explains, “One of the key things that has helped us along this journey is that we have partnered closely with Epic.
He adds, “We are very lucky to receive two mega grants earlier last year to accelerate the integration between our delivery platform and the Unreal Engine and we’ve entered into a long term partnership now where if you’re using Unreal Engine, disguise is trying to be the best possible platform and delivery mechanism for whatever you can imagine in Unreal Engine”
Partnership with Netflix
Disguise is also closely partnered with Netflix, helping Netflix teams around the world to standardise and productise virtual production for the the masses.
Democratising virtual production
With the help of the academy, open source software and virtual production have become more and more democratised. Disguise aims to further the cause of democratising the toolsets too. He shares, “And what disguise does is democratising virtual production so that everybody can get these tools in the hands and not have to learn how to be an expert in in-display, have to be an expert in building systems and how to support, manage and update systems.”
We hope to see more and more democratisation of the tools needed to create art and motion pictures in the days ahead. As Rockhill says, “The aim to take care of the really difficult nuts and bolts stuff; so that all of you can focus on production, visual effects and being on set.”