Fashion models are used to traveling to exotic locations for a photo shoot or a runway show, but it is less usual for the environment to come to them. Now, the background has changed, and Manhattan’s Pier 59 Studios has opened the largest virtual production stage for advertising and live events in the U.S.
The 65’ curved mega wall screen made its debut hosting the opening night party of New York Fashion Week with models Candice Swanepoel, Lais Ribeiro, Taylor Hill, Johannes Huebl and drag performer CT Hedden on the guestlist.
Center-stage was a catwalk and mock photoshoot designed to showcase how the mega wall can be used by fashion and commercial shoots as a backdrop for locations; on this opening night, those ranged from water settings to jungle, desert and forest environments.
In-camera effects were delivered live by cinematographer Tim Kang, associate member of the ASC and principal engineer, color & imaging, at lighting specialists Quasar Science.
“The production company Original Syndicate invited us to light and shoot the launch event for the stage during New York Fashion Week,” Kang explained. “Any time you do any sort of production using an LED wall, people who know what they are doing have to calibrate the camera and environment together. It is never plug-and-play.
“And many folks who know what they are doing choose RED KOMODO because it just removes a lot of the problems that DPs find when they start capturing in a volume.”
Kang says KOMODO is a perfect fit for any virtual production environment. “The camera has good dynamic range and color rendition, and it’s very lightweight, which makes for easy manoeuvrability. Most importantly, KOMODO has a global shutter.”
Kang explains, “I see a lot of cinematographers specifying the KOMODO for work on VP stages with good reason — there are zero issues with flicker associated with rolling shutter. Even if you don’t genlock — if you haven’t synced up the camera to the wall — KOMODO performs very well because of its global shutter.”
Both LED tiles and rolling shutter cameras will progressively scan the picture for display and onto the sensor. But when you combine two different imaging systems scanning in two different ways, you often get mismatches in exposure and a complete, continuous image.
“You might see lines across the screen which is especially noticeable when the camera tilts up or down,” Kang says. “It looks like someone took a knife and cut the screen horizontally.”
Slower shutter speeds accentuate the issue even if the camera is genlocked to the wall.
“That is why KOMODO has become very popular in the virtual production space. With a global shutter, you negate those issues, and you may not even need genlock. When the sensor is open, you capture all of the wall.”
For the NY Fashion Week party, they even shot double frame rates at 48 per second with no issues.
“It worked flawlessly. You’re not seeing any scan lines or issues with the wall. KOMODO really enables you to just go ahead and shoot.”
Even with a global shutter, cinematographers and their camera team will need to calibrate the camera to the wall every time they shoot. That’s because of the differences between the way professional digital cine cameras record color versus the generally inferior color quality of LED panels.
“It’s simply the reality of the situation, and the ASC and other organizations are working to standardize it,” reports Kang. “Although every wall is slightly different, they all use the same type of diodes and these have a very narrow spectrum for red, green and blue.
“The way those diodes line up with camera sensors sometimes doesn’t quite agree with what a light meter would say. So, if the meter is taking readings from the wall and says it’s daylight, the camera might record it as a bit cooler or warmer and magenta instead of being exactly right.
“If you’re going to do it right, you have to calibrate the wall to the camera.”
There are many ways of doing it. The simplest, conventional, but most practical way is to white balance by setting the camera to video white and dialing in the color control of the wall to match.
In addition to the traditional role of cinematographer, Kang was required to go deeper into the color and imaging pipeline to ensure the image coming out of the main presentation reflected the intentions of all the creative forces involved in this event.
For this, Quasar Science augmented the mega wall’s Litepanels Gemini fixtures with its R2 and RR fixtures and applied its Image-based lighting (IBL). IBL pipes video to large arrays of lighting fixtures to deliver more authentic real-time lighting on set.
“With volume production, the temptation is to light with tiles, but doing so has a lot of problems. The quality of light and spectrum can be poor. The output is often not bright enough, so placing arrays of fixtures on set that can display spectrum and playback video correctly with color fidelity allows for skin tones and fabrics to look more accurate to the camera.
“When it comes to a fashion shoot, those are surely the two most important things,” Kang says. “You can’t have that wrong.”
“Being able to light correctly in KOMODO meant everything, and we got naturalistic, rich filmic quality.”
Credits for the event included:
- Creative Directors: Federico Pignatelli, Jerome Duran
- Produced by: Pier59 Studios Virtual Production
- Producer: Lorenzo Ferrante x Pier59 Studios VPR, Christina Neault
- Executive Producer: Tyler Baum x Pier59 Studios VPR
- Virtual Production Supervisor: Jim Rider x Pier59 Studios VPR
- Virtual Production Director: Steve Baum x Pier59 Studios VPR
- Director of Photography: Tim S. Kang
- Production Designers: Natalia Janul, Odin Grina
- Models: Charlotte Coquelin, Elah Garcia, Anastasia Koval, Sasha Lewis, Janina Jung at The Industry Model Mgmt
- Hair: Isaac Davidson
- Makeup: Niko Maragos
- Designer: Marc Bouwer