Enhance your virtual production workflows using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Hypertec’s CIARA KRONOS W405T-G6 High Performance Workstations.

Real-time rendering has given studios new and exciting opportunities to stretch their creativity. Not only does it cut costs, but also drops the need for location-based shooting. The result – more control over the creative process and faster production times.

virtual production workflowSource: Unrealengine.com

The film community is excited about these new innovations. Virtual production is taking Hollywood by storm and will soon be a mainstream option for studios, video producers, and agencies as well. Using a virtual simulated background location brings a story to the screen faster. Sets can be created and altered on the fly as fast as the script changes. And actors can interact with large-screen visualizations on virtual sets as if they were on location-based sets allowing for more realism in films. Creative teams can design stunning cinematics and graphics, from high-fidelity textures and reflections to realistic camera movement and lighting in real-time.

A new way to shoot

Think of it as shooting a movie inside a video game. The technology combines virtual and augmented reality with computer-generated imaging and massive LED displays to create production-quality immersive scenes. Instead of working in front of green screens, actors interact with actual scenes from the finished movie.

Source: Unrealengine.com

This is a major departure from the way video has traditionally been created. The entire crew can see the action in context and actors can respond to real scenes and characters instead of trying to imagine them on a green screen. Lighting matches the scene being captured for maximum realism.

The payoffs are across the board. Directors, actors, and crew members can see the final scene as it’s being shot instead of months later in post-production. On-location filming costs are reduced because much of the environment can be rendered digitally. Smaller crews are neededneeded, and fewer scenes need to be reshot because of continuity or framing errors. Producers of the FX series “Snowfall” have estimated they save about $50,000 per episode in production costs.

Virtual production budgetSource: variety.com

Unlimited possibilities in real-time productions

Virtual production has been around in some form for several years but came to the fore with the 2019 release of the TV series The Mandalorian. Thanks to steady improvements in the price/performance of computers and displays, the technology is now widely used.

One reason is rapid advances in LED screen technology. Massive displays can be constructed out of multiple smaller screens that are connected in a line to produce one continuous image. LED technology doesn’t require bezels, which are the black borders between the device and its frame. That means displays can be snapped together in an almost infinite variety of shapes and sizes. Currently, the largest one in the world is Las Vegas’s Fremont Street Experience at more than 123,000 square feet (about the area of a Manhattan city block).

Fremont Street ExperienceSource: vegasexperience.com

Virtual production consumes a lot of computer power. In addition to rendering images, computers need to synchronize camera movement, lighting, and sound. Multiple workstations may be needed if the rendering involves more than one surface.

Details matter. For example, pixel pitch – which is the distance between individual LED lights on the screen – must be calibrated to match the resolution of the camera. If the two aren’t coordinated, it can cause a distracting moiré pattern. Displays are becoming steadily more pixel-dense, but that adds to the processing power needed for the computers that drive them.

Specialized software has emerged from the gaming world that ties together all these elements in a single package. Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is the market leader with a free version for creators, publishers, students, and educators who are willing to work without premium support. Other options include Perforce, Autodesk’s Maya, and Pixotope. All run-on Windows, Mac, and Linux but Windows has appeared as the most popular choice because many of the plug-ins that are needed for auxiliary functions like camera tracking and lighting are available only on that operating system.

Delivering Unreal performance

Unreal Engine recommends a minimum workstation configuration of a quad-core Intel® or AMD processor running 64-bit Windows 10 at 2.5 GHz, 8 gigabytes of memory, and a DirectX 11- or 12-compatible graphics card. For anything more than basic production, however, you will need more power. Virtual production professionals say you should get the most powerful system you can afford, with 10 CPU cores and multiple GPUs as a starting point.

Hypertec’s CIARA KRONOS W405T-G6 supplies the kind of horsepower needed for the most demanding virtual production uses. It comes with the world’s most powerful 64-core desktop processor: the AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™ PRO 5000 WX-Series with acceleration features that automatically adjust the clock speed depending upon the use case. The workstation supports up to 2TB of DDR4 3200 MHz RAM, and up to 4 NVIDIA® Quadro® RTX / GeForce® RTX / Tesla® or AMD Radeon™ Pro WX graphics cards, for advanced workstation configurations.

Source: Amd.com

With eight storage drive bays, seven PCIe 4.0 x16 slots, and up to 2000 watts of available power, the CIARA KRONOS W405T-G6 achieves almost limitless expansion potential. Its high-performance liquid cooling system not only protects against heat-related failures but supports the quiet operation creative professionals need on set.

While it’s too early to say goodbye to the green screen just yet, the cost, quality, and agility that virtual production enables should soon make it part of the film-making mainstream.

It’s never too early to prepare.

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