In October last year, technical production and LED screen hire company, iMAG, joined forces with film production company Treehouse Digital, to pioneer a state-of-the-art mobile LED virtual production facility. When the pandemic flipped the events landscape on its head, they were ready to help the film and live events industries navigate through the global restrictions. The result is a mobile facility that offers a 360-degree LED workflow, which includes an in-house drawing team, rigging specialists and full LED set up.
“We were quick off the mark with our full-service mobile VP solution and it has definitely been paying off,” said iMAG’s MD and technical director, Alex Strachan. “With Treehouse Digital bringing years of experience in filmmaking, and iMAG offering the hardware, and our knowledge and expertise gained through working in high pressure live environments, the partnership is a match made in heaven.”
Chris Musselwhite, producer and head of production at Treehouse Digital, which works with major streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon for film and TV, notes that LED address many of the limitations of alternatives such as greenscreen and rear projection in terms of lengthy/more challenging post-production processes and overall space requirements. It is important to note that there are still necessary processes and strict planning with this approach (Treehouse calls it Pre-Post), but to ultimately capture the end results down the lens is what is really exciting.
“When LED VP came into play, we recognised there was a huge market for it, both for live action backdrops and virtual environments via Unreal Engine,” explained Musselwhite. “So, we started contacting companies that were doing LED screens for live events. With most of them, they either didn’t have the capacity to support our particular requirements, or it just wasn’t something that was on their radar. Then we came across iMAG.”
What struck Treehouse most was iMAG’s pioneering and innovator-like philosophy. “They didn’t just think about what they were doing in that moment, they asked strategic questions such as ‘Where could this go?’, and ‘What could we do with it?’. The partnership just felt like the most natural fit for both brands,” he adds.
In forming the alliance, iMAG and Treehouse have created an ecosystem of like-minded experts from a variety of specialist areas, all working towards developing an ultimate LED solution for virtual production, with advanced control options and VP workflows.
“With virtual production on the rise, the true-to-life colour accuracy and image bit depth of High Dynamic Range (HDR) is becoming extremely popular,” Strachan continued. “Having invested in ROE Visual LED panels and Brompton Technology processing, as well as having our entire fleet of LED panels recently calibrated with our newly-purchased Brompton Hydra measurement system to make them Brompton HDR-ready, we tick all the boxes for our clients.”One of the set ups has been deployed at the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), and comprises a 20m by 5m curved LED backdrop using ROE Black Onyx 2.8mm with a ROE MC7 ceiling for ambient lighting. Pulling on iMAG’s experience in the live industry, the system is ‘tour ready’, allowing it to be transported either in full, or to specific dimensions, to any desired filming location. Most recently, it has been used at Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol for a large project with Netflix and at Gillette Studios in London.
“Our aim is to be a one stop shop. In virtual production, every single element matters,” states Strachan. “Our top of the range LED equipment, combined with our industry reputation and technical expertise, means we are able to provide a complete service to our clients, whilst holding their hands all the way through the process.”
According to Musselwhite, whilst many companies recognise the potential of virtual production, it is vital to have the right set of skills and expertise to deliver an effective solution.
“With this partnership, we combine our filmmaking background with iMAG’s expertise in LED screens,” he said. “iMAG has been delivering LED solutions in extremely challenging situations for many years. That’s something you can’t learn overnight. The feedback we’ve had from our partners is that we are very much ahead of the curve in leading the charge for LED virtual production in the UK. There is a massive need for content creation that happens on a daily basis, and whilst productions such as Mandalorian are globally acclaimed projects, and very rightly so, there are a vast number of features that need servicing with similar technology but at a more cost-effective level.”
One of Strachan’s key recommendations for virtual production is to do a camera test at an early stage to ensure both the LED screens and processing are able to deliver the desired performance on-camera.
“Our team can guide the client through some common challenges such as moiré effect, but also address other possible issues such as multiplexing, flickering, banding or even rolling black bars, which can all be taken care of right from the start,” he added. “We know that cameras and LED screens have their own unique characteristics. We offer our clients a physical platform where they can confirm that the proposed pairing of equipment works seamlessly together and delivers the best possible result.”
By collaborating with industry experts and using future-proof software and technologies, iMAG and Treehouse are ready to facilitate all their clients’ requests for virtual events and, when things return to normal, physical shows as well.
“The fact that we use Brompton HDR-ready LED panels definitely gives us an edge over our competition,” said Strachan. “Many of the world’s major productions are using HDR technology now, so there is a clear appetite for high-quality, lifelike visual content which is now filtering down to smaller-size productions. We’re delighted to be able to support any production, big or small, by partnering Treehouse.”
Having recently secured two Epic MegaGrants and currently working on virtual productions with world-renowned brands, Treehouse could not feel prouder of what they have achieved in such short period of time.
“By having the team of people with the right skills in the right areas, we have been able to take the industry by storm and deliver a headache-free VP solution,” Musselwhite concluded. “We are privileged to be working with companies like Netflix and Amazon. If we can impress them, we must be doing something right. That wouldn’t have happened without iMAG.”