Epic Games, the video game company and developer behind Unreal Engine has recently finalised refurbishing its London based Innovation Lab, including a complete virtual production LED Volume. The Innovation Lab is a hub for the creative community, offering creators across industries a platform to produce real-time content and immersive virtual experiences, using Epic’s Unreal Engine (UE) software.
Whilst UE has been at the forefront of Virtual Production (VP) since the first workflows began to emerge, it is the first time that the company has introduced its state-of-the-art virtual studio, working with partners such as Brompton Technology, ARRI and creative technical production company 80six, to bring the magic of virtual production to life.
“Our initial conversations with Brompton took place at this year’s ISE, where we met with several other vendors to discuss our needs to create a virtual production studio at our Innovation Lab in London,” says Epic Games technical artist Ben Kidd. “Brompton’s Tessera processing ticked all our boxes, so we were very keen to go ahead and test the full LED solution in situ.”
The arrangement was made between teams at 80six, Brompton and Epic to have demo ROE LED screens and Brompton Tessera S8 LED processors delivered to the Lab facility. However, due to the lockdown, the project had to be postponed until late April. Following eased restrictions, the equipment was finally shipped to Epic and was further tested by Kidd and his team on site for over a month, post which they decided to make the full investment.
The complete LED fleet – including 144 ROE Black Pearl 2 LED panels, 38 CB3 Carbon 3 full-size and eight half-size panels – has been calibrated with Brompton’s Hydra advanced measurement system to take full advantage of Dynamic Calibration features and Brompton HDR (High Dynamic Range).
The space is a mix of lighting emitted by LED panels and also traditional lighting fixtures that one would normally find on a professional film set, with all of the traditional fixtures provided by ARRI. Additionally, the company offered its high-end AMIRA camera system with various lens packages for the studio.
“At ARRI it’s been clear to us for some time that Virtual Production with LED will be a key part of many of the projects we see and work on going forward and the interplay between cameras, video and lighting is crucial to the success of these projects,” says ARRI regional business development director David Levy. “We have seen our cameras work brilliantly with Brompton processors in the most demanding environments and this project has been no exception. It’s been a pleasure to work on the London Lab with Epic, Brompton and 80Six to deliver a facility which can be a proving ground for more ground-breaking developments in this field and we are excited to see the content it will produce.”
Whilst the design service has been managed by the team of ARRI’s System Group, the technical service for Epic’s Lab has been provided by the team at 80six.
With all the technical elements coming together to create a beautiful high-spec curved LED screen, the driving power, the Tessera S8, has been chosen by Kidd for several reasons.
“The main reason we chose to use the new Tessera S8 was because we wanted to send a smaller number of pixels out of the GPU. Rather than using all of the GPU’s overhead to deliver a 4K signal it now outputs only half of that, with the remaining 50 per cent of the GPU’s capacity used to significantly enhance image quality,” explains Kidd. “We have more grunt inside of the GPU and can still take full advantage of a wide range of the S8’s features, including its full support of Brompton HDR to provide stunning realistic imagery, which was another key consideration for the team.”
With all final testing sessions completed, Kidd and the rest of the team at Epic cannot wait to put the LED Volume to its full use by opening it up to their Unreal Engine community of creators.
“What we stand for here at Epic is empowering people to create content,” concludes Kidd. “Our new facility is another way of breaking down the barriers in content production and allowing great things to happen. Thanks to our close-knit community of virtual production partners like Brompton Technology, we have been able to create a platform that delivers a new level of immersive visual experience. The Innovation Lab with its LED Volume, expert processing and our Unreal Engine software can support all the latest technology advances in virtual production, and we’re excited to see how it continues to transform the art and craft of filmmaking.”