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Mobile virtual production is here via Silverdraft Mobileviz

By Barry Goch
March 22, 2011
Mobile virtual production is here via Silverdraft Mobileviz LOS ANGELES — Integrating live-action photography with virtual characters has always been a tremendous technical challenge. Virtual stages are fantastic tools for filmmakers to take actors and place them in a virtual world and interact with virtual characters. But what if you need your actors on location to remain firmly rooted in their real world but interact in realtime with virtual worlds and characters? This is now possible with the development of Boise, Idaho-based Silverdraft’s Mobileviz (www.silverdraft.com): the first virtual production facility on wheels.

In an exclusive conversation with Post, the team behind Mobileviz details the power they have placed in filmmaker’s hands.

A semi trailer has been built from the ground up to provide a cutting-edge mobile solution capable of 4K, 2K and stereoscopic production and post. At the heart of Mobileviz is a supercomputer designed by Dr. Srinidhi Varadarajan, director, Center of High-End Computing Systems, and associate professor, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech University, VA.

Srinidhi built a mobile supercomputer comprised of a 1,600 procession cores on a backplane with 4.5Tbits/second thruput. The supercomputer is capable of 30 teraflops, 30 trillion floating-point operations per second. It also has 20TB Micron solid-state storage array. As an example of the speed of the system, Varadarajan stated that an entire Blu-ray disc can be copied in one second! The system has enough horsepower to support simultaneous 3D rendering and motion capture.

Nate Pickens, Mobileviz project manager, engineered the mobile facility to support this tremendous processing power with 18 tons of A/C cooling, an onboard 125 kVA generator to support location production and standard cam-lock stage connections for studio work. The 600 square feet of workspace is roughly divided in half – half-machine room, half artist workspace. In its current configuration, there are seven workstations, each equipped with HP Dreamcolor monitors along with JVC’s 3D monitor. There is an onboard 64x64 router that feeds signals to an Autodesk Flame Premium suite as well as Final Cut Pro and Avid edit stations, and a Filmlight Baselight grading station. Additional capability is provided by workstations featuring Autodesk MotionBuilder, Maya and 3DS Max along with Mental Images’ Mental Ray renderer, Chaos Group’s Vray, and Qube! render management from PipelineFX.


Michael Cooper, director of business development at Mobileviz, is a long-time VFX industry veteran of facilities such as Cinesite, ILM and EFlim. He emphasized the true power of the system to be its flexibility due to the underlying computer horsepower. On-location virtual production with realtime camera tracking and motion capture integration allows for all the department heads to see the same thing in realtime and make on-the-fly adjustments repositioning elements to suit a directors vision — at the same time as generating camera tracking and mocap data to seamlessly composite elements in post. With this system, you will know instantly if eye-lines work, if characters will “sit” properly in the scene, and make immediate adjustments if they don’t. With the onboard supercomputer, you have the power to quickly refine previs assets to work more precisely with on set talent.

Amy Gile, founder/CEO of Silverdraft, explains the vision behind creating this mobile superpower: “It’s about technology aiding artist to create rather than the technology taking over the creation.” Mobileviz uses cutting-edge technology to speed up production and post by bringing all the departments together to share a creative vision utilizing the collaborative filmmaking process to have everyone be on the same page by seeing in realtime what you are getting in-camera.

Last Sunday, a group of invited guests participated in a demonstration shoot. The scene called for a seven-foot alien robot to be attacking an actress in a parking lot. Cooper said they employed a motion tracking system, provided by mocap specialists Knight Vision, to capture the camera and performer data. Pickens added that they used a Codex recorder on the Mobilviz truck to record the ArriRaw footage from the Arri Alexa camera while simultaneously talking the HD video tap signal and sending to the truck-based Autodesk Smoke and Baselight systems as well at the using a Truelight onset for setting looks and sending LUTs to everybody. Gile added that during the shoot, the director didn’t like how an approaching helicopter worked in the scene so an artist aboard the Mobliviz trailer was able to reorient the model and almost instantly tweak the scene allowing the director, and the rest of the creative team, to immediately see the update working with the actress on set.