Virtual production has fast become a major component of filmmaking, and William F. White International’s (WFW) newest virtual production studio in Toronto looks to satisfy the growing demand.
Completed last August in Stage 6 at the Port Lands Studio City facility, it features a 62′ semi-circular LED wall on which filmmakers can display virtual interior or exterior environments for in-camera shooting. The 2,000 sq. ft LED volume consists of 720 ROE BP2 panels forming the wall and 175 ROE CB5 panels on 4 articulating ceiling sections.
Enabling filmmakers to capture actors and background environments together on set allows for immediate feedback and greater control than traditional blue and green screens, which require the extra postproduction step of compositing the two elements.
Alter-Ego Post recently shot a spec commercial for McDonald’s in the studio with only performers seated at a few tables on the stage with the rest of the restaurant environment displayed on the LED wall, all seamlessly integrated on camera.
The virtual production studio is a collaboration between WFW, a Sunbelt Rentals company, and Hollywood-based VFX company Pixomondo (PXO), and both provide on-set expertise to productions.
“The technology is still foreign to a lot of producers,” says Edward Hanrahan, WFW’s Director of Virtual Production and a former designer at PXO. “Using WFW’s experience with physical production and PXO’s experience with VFX, content generation and real-time rendering, we can guide productions through the entire process.”
The virtual studio opens up a wide variety of possibilities to productions. A movie or TV series requiring one scene at a Paris café can integrate a photorealistic background without costly travel or set construction. And no need to worry about the sun going down and “losing the light” on a controlled set.
Of course, productions can get even more ambitious with virtual environments. The ViacomCBS series Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds have created alien locales on a bigger WFW/PXO LED studio in West Toronto that offers a 7,000 sq. ft. volume and 70′ horseshoe-shaped LED wall.
“At the beginning of last season on Star Trek: Discovery, the writers took the stories to different planets, which takes a lot of expensive set design and building,” Hanrahan says. “They had a limited number of planets they were budgeted to visit, but we have removed that barrier for the production, and they are now going to different planets all the time.”
A third WFW/PXO virtual production stage – touted as one of the world’s largest – is located in Vancouver at the Canadian Motion Picture Park. With an LED volume of 7,750 sq. ft and an 80′ LED wall covering 310 degrees, it is ideally suited for immersive environments for major productions. Long-term client Netflix is currently there shooting live-action series Avatar: The Last Airbender.
And with the West Toronto facility occupied by the Star Trek franchise, that leaves Stage 6, aimed at shorter-term clientele, although Hanrahan says demand is high.
“The first quarter is booked,” he says. “And then we move into some tier-one television shows that will do blocks of shooting in there, and we’re talking to a couple of feature producers about the second half of the year. We’re trying to find days for everybody who wants access.”
Trevor Huys, WFW’s VP, Camera and Virtual Production, assures more stages are on the way as WFW and PXO venture into international markets.
“By combining the cutting-edge technical nature of virtual production with the latest and greatest cameras and lenses we have on offer – along with everything else in the extensive inventories of WFW and Sunbelt Rentals – we’re able to provide clients with an incredible package of services,” Huys says. “This process is definitely here to stay.”