Orbital captures ICVFX on LA virtual production stages
August 4, 2022

Orbital captures ICVFX on LA virtual production stages

LOS ANGELES — Orbital Virtual Studios (https://orbitalvs.com), which provides high quality virtual production services via two stages at its downtown Los Angeles headquarters, has built a pipeline for capturing in-camera visual effects (ICVFX) at final pixel quality. Founded in 2021 by AJ Wedding and Chris Cope, Orbital Virtual Studios’ VFX credits include the episodic series Snowfall and Justified. The studio employs the precision tracking of OptiTrack technology and Planar LED screens on its virtual production stages while leveraging powerful media servers and realtime game engines.

Photo (top): Goliath directed by Don Bitters; Credit: Courtesy Orbital Studios/Luke Dejoras

“At Orbital, we help clients realize their desired end result by creating fully immersive 3D environments that offer a high level of authenticity for stunning, photoreal ICVFX,” explains Cope. “With OptiTrack at the core, our tracking capabilities are limitless, and we’re able to accomplish the most challenging setups and overcome any technical limitations that may arise from complex productions.”

“Using OptiTrack, we don’t have to worry about occlusions, markers falling off the ceiling, adding unnecessary weight to Steadicam rigs, or figuring out workarounds,” adds Leonidas Jaramillo, Orbital’s in-house cinematographer. “Instead, we can focus on capturing amazing visuals in realtime, and I think we’re on the cusp of something incredible.” 

Photo: The Shipment directed by AJ Wedding; Credit: Courtesy Orbital Studios/AJ Wedding

To keep the LED imagery precisely synced to camera movements and other in-scene objects, Orbital relies on OptiTrack Prime 41 tracking cameras (www.optitrack.com) and various combinations of active and passive markers, along with Motive software. OptiTrack’s CinePuck, a low-profile tracking device built for virtual production and broadcast, enables filmmakers to capture dynamic ICVFX with the camera of their choice, and track with any jib, arm, or mount, even in the case of significant occlusion. The 1.5mm pixel pitch of Orbital’s Planar LED screen allows for close filming, optimizing the volume’s space, while the screens’ 10-bit HDR and 120hz capabilities ensure high quality visual display.

“No matter the mount height and placement, camera vibrations, or occlusion, OptiTrack’s CinePuck tracks with the utmost precision in the most rigorous virtual production environments,” states Jaramillo. “Whether mounted to a technocrane and extended through doorways or windows, attached to a Steadicam for intense tracking shots, or obscured by light and boom placement, CinePuck offers the smoothest and most accurate full 6DoF tracking, allowing us to achieve incredible realtime ICVFX that exceeds client expectations.”

Orbital motion tracking specialist Mark Poletti oversees all aspects of the studio’s OptiTrack system, for both virtual production and performance capture tracking. His background as a stunt performer and motion-capture actor informs his approach to each shoot. 

“We’ve had a great track record with OptiTrack,” Poletti notes. “ We calibrate once at the start of the day and we’re good to go, and the low latency we receive using the Prime 41 cameras and Motive is important. It allows filmmakers to execute quick, complicated camera movements and shoot the way they want. Also, virtual production is still relatively new, so whenever we encounter an issue, the OptiTrack and Planar teams are ready and willing to help us out.”

Orbital has been experimenting with new virtual production opportunites. For example, a recent shoot featured an actor, filmed in the virtual production volume, interacting with a digital character on the LED wall that was driven by a motion-capture performer off stage in realtime. Using this approach, productions can capture digital characters in-camera, allowing directors to accurately visualize the scene in realtime and reduce post production needs.

The studio’s Planar LED panels (www.planar.com) are also key to its virtual production set up. Once inspired to build a virtual production volume, the team set out to find the right panels to create a solution that complemented traditional production without breaking the bank. After testing a few solutions, the team worked with Planar to design the 1.5mm pixel pitch screens now installed on its two fixed stages.

“When you have an LED wall with a pixel pitch over 2mm, the camera must be 16-20 feet away, so if you have a smaller volume, you’re going to lose up to 70 percent of the filmable area and you’d be limited on camera movement or lens selection,” Cope explains. “Those limitations defeat the purpose of using virtual production. Our Planar panels and OptiTrack tracking technology allow for up close filming on the LED wall, without moire or scanlines, so that the volume can be used in its entirety for in-camera capture. We can also track hundreds of items while filming.”