HPA 2020 Tech Retreat, Part 2

HPA 2020 Tech Retreat

Last time, I talked about an annual meeting in Palm Springs, California, where Hollywood minds discuss all things about content creation. The second day of the Hollywood Professional Association Tech Retreat is referred to as the Supersession. This year it certainly earned that title.

Rather than scheduling speaker after speaker to talk about various technologies, HPA made a short film. It was a unique way to cover the topic of using the cloud for post-production while also creating content—live!—in front of the attendees.

Three scenes of the short film were shot throughout the day, and a drone sequence was shot out in the desert simultaneous to the morning presentations. The film was directed by Steven Shaw, DGA, ASC with Roy Wagner, ASC as cinematographer.

Prior to the retreat, the bulk of the scenes for the 11-minute film were shot at various locations back in Los Angeles. All the footage was uploaded to Amazon S3 storage, allowing access to scenes by various post-production service companies. At the end of the day, the film—with full-color grading, visual effects and sound design—was screened for attendees.

The day showcased a dizzying array of technologies. In-camera effects was one of the first examples of cutting-edge tech. An interior train scene had been set up on the presentation stage. The action appeared to take place in the evening, and the view out the train windows was produced using LED panels playing back footage previously shot by multiple cameras.

But here’s where it gets real—literally. The footage wasn’t just played back, it was rendered out for playback by a real-time rendering engine that was tied to tracking hardware on the primary shooting camera. As the camera moved to cover the action, the scene outside the windows changed perspective just as it would if you were on an actual train.

A similar scene—shot previously—involved a group sitting around a picnic table in the woods. Although it was also shot with LED panels, this time the panels provided the entire background. With this technology, the background can be organic or synthetic. Using synthetic backgrounds allows for quick modifications to the scenery. This tech was used for scenes in “Star Wars: The Mandalorian.”

This shooting method has multiple benefits. One is that the actors don’t just walk around a green screen. They can actually see and respond to the environment. Another is that the LED panels can also be used as light sources, simply by adding a white shape in any area not in the shot.

On the other hand, there was a drawback to this method of shooting. Some actors may get a little motion sick as the background moves to track the camera. To help with that problem, only the part of the background that the camera sees is moved.

In addition to in-camera effects, the day was filled with other technologies—next time.