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RDM Speeds Into Virtual Production With ARRI

RDM
Greg Robbins is the CEO, director and producer at RDM (Image credit: RDM)

NEW YORK—In mid-2020, we were asked to concept a uniquely ambitious piece for the release of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. We knew we had to come up with a creative that would meet the unparalleled quality of the S-Class itself and as we were studying unique directions for bringing the project to life, we came across virtual production.

Our team was already familiar with the concept of chroma keying and compositing, but this was our very first foray into virtual production with Unreal Engine technology. After extensive research, we developed a story that would utilize the advantages of a virtual production environment, a 32-page script going from city streets to a hedge maze to multiple surreal and otherworldly spaces.

EARTH TO THE MOON

That’s the beauty of virtual production—if need-be, we could jump from shooting in the city to the moon in a matter of minutes. Not to mention the possibility of achieving an overbearing, ambitious schedule without having to worry about company moves, weather or real-world noises. 

RDM works with some of the world’s largest automotive brands. We shoot car-to-car on a regular basis, in all kinds of environments and terrain. Putting together a car shoot of this magnitude that did not require speciality permitting, police and roadblocks, or shutting down bridges, roads, beaches and parks, was a welcome change of pace. We found ourselves having more flexibility over the shots, no safety concerns for the actor, and every highway and street corner in the world was suddenly at our disposal. 

For the shoot, we used the ARRI Alexa Mini with Kowa Anamorphics and a sea of ARRI SkyPanels. 

VIRTUAL CASE STUDY

After the success of our Mercedes-Benz project, we were contacted by ARRI and AbelCine to give an interview and discuss our experience with virtual production. As one of the first groups to ever work with the technology, we returned to Vū Studio, where we shot our Mercedes-Benz piece, and put together an entirely new production to properly showcase the workflow.

With all the lessons learned from our first experience, we were familiar and comfortable with the technology, and even developed several Unreal backgrounds ourselves. We experimented with fancier lighting setups, camera movements and new equipment, such as the Alexa Mini LF and the Signature Primes, which quickly became two of our favorite tools to work with. 

Filming in large format with the ARRI cameras provides an extra level of separation between the foreground and the background, which is key in virtual production, since the volume doesn’t give you much space between the LED screen and the subject. Being able to have that amount of control over the depth of field allows you to be able to work closer to the volume and have a lot less problems with the pixel pitch.

Shooting on LED walls presents a learning curve like any new technology, but one that is easily surmountable. It’s not going to be the right tool for every job, but if you have the right idea, the right mindset and a little technical savvy, it can open doors previously closed to filmmakers without a Hollywood-level budget. l

Greg Robbins is the CEO, director and producer at RDM; Chris Fanning is the director of photography at RDM. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class piece (full) is available at https://vimeo.com/520074688

The AbelCine case study is available at www.abelcine.com

To learn more about RDM’s work visit www.robbinsdigitalmedia.com.