LiveLab: Camera Tracking Kit for Virtual Audiences

Mo-Sys puts the crowd back into sport with a high- precision motion tracking kit that connects to Unreal Engine and other graphics engines so broadcasters can add live virtual audiences.

This revolutionary approach is sure to bring back the atmosphere to live sport amid covid-19 restrictions. Providing precision, zero-latency tracking for any camera (including ultra-long box lenses for sport), the Mo-Sys camera tracking kit interfaces directly to the Unreal Engine or any broadcast render engine, allowing production companies to add virtual crowds to stands.

“After so many weeks, sports fans are desperate for any action,” said Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys. “But the frustration will turn to disappointment if the atmosphere of the game falls flat because of empty stands. We have developed a camera tracking kit which any outside broadcast can implement quickly and simply, capable of filling the stands with a virtual, but enthusiastic, crowd.”

Outdoor Camera Tracking

The Mo-Sys camera tracking encoders are quickly mounted onto broadcast standard Vinten Vector heads, with no impact on the camera’s perfect balance and no backlash when panning and tilting. Zoom data is collected either by gear encoders or by a serial data link to digital lenses. The combined tracking data is sent over ethernet to the workstation hosting the augmented reality software.

“We are known for the absolute precision and stability of our camera tracking – that’s why Hollywood relies on our technology,” Geissler added. “In this application, we deliver precise tracking, including compensation for lens distortion, even when a 100:1 lens is zoomed fully.”

Real-time Photorealistic Graphics

Mo-Sys has worked with Epic Games to develop a tight interface to the Unreal Engine, including support for the latest version 4.25 software. The result is that highly photo-realistic augmented reality – such as crowds filling the stands – can be integrated into live production with no limitations and negligible latency. The kit includes the bolt-on encoding kit for Vinten heads and the lens calibration tools.

You are invited to see the technology in action in a Mo-Sys LiveLab webinar, which will also include contributions from Epic Games and Canon. The webinars are on 30 June, at 10.00 BST and repeated at 18.00 BST.

Filming post-COVID19: Rules and Opportunities

Since lockdown began, almost every production studio has paused operations. According to Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission, there’s currently over £1 billion worth of productions ‘moth-balled’ around the UK. 

As restrictions are gradually lifted, however, studios are getting back to work – albeit in a radically different way to before. In the absence of an en-masse vaccination, the coronavirus still poses a very real threat to the health of production professionals, and is likely to do so for quite some time. To minimise the risk, studios will need to comply with new rules that dictate how they operate. With our robotics, camera tracking and VP technology, Mo-Sys are in an ideal place to cater for these needs. To address the challenges, we are working on strategies and new products that we will reveal in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, read on to find out why we consider the challenges of this period as a catalyst for positive, long-lasting change to the film production industry. 

The new rules for studios

Whilst various studios have issued their own rules on how they plan to mitigate the risk of transmission during productions, most official industry bodies have now published more authoritative guidelines. The UK’s main broadcasters (ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, and ITN), for instance, have released joint guidance on how to manage the risk of COVID during broadcast production. The main points are: 

  • Maintain social distancing rules in studios 
  • Reduce the number of people on-site at any one time 
  • Minimise travel wherever possible 
  • Minimise physical contact between crew 
  • Improve the hygiene of work equipment 

Over in the States, the proposed rules are much the same. At the beginning of June, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers released a wide-ranging white paper that covers everything from production-specific concerns (make-up, casting, writers etc.) to testing capabilities. What’s constant, however, is the need to minimise physical contact between crew members regardless of their roles. 

The role of technology

In order to comply with these new measures, we’re likely to see more studios adopt remote and virtual production methods – hastening a trend that was already well underway before the pandemic. 

Remote-camera heads, for instance, can be used to ensure social distancing measures are maintained within studios – increasing the space between crew members without compromising the functionality or movement of cameras. 

Even more innovative, however, are remote-controlled cameras. Mo-sys’ soon-to-be-released TimeCam permits camera operators to have full control over camera movement without being present on-site. This effectively means that they can control cameras from the other side of the world, with no perceived delay. The implications of such tech are clear – not only do production teams reduce risk to the health of their staff, but they significantly cut costs, time, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with international travel. 

And that’s if any travel is actually necessary. The capabilities of virtual production (VP) have now reached a point where even the most ambitious environments can be generated in graphics engines with unimaginable precision (just check out the power of UE5 below). According to Emmy-awarding producer and industry professional, Richard Janes, as much as 80% of all TV and film production could be effectively switched to VP. 

In essence, this amounts to a monumental shift in production practices. The days of large teams moving around multiple locations, setting up and decamping everywhere they go, are over. 

The new model will be characterised by less travel, fewer people on-site (using green screens, LED walls, and remote-controlled cameras in large sound stages), and greater creative freedom. 

Safer, faster, and more cost-efficient

Remote and virtual production methods aren’t new. Many studios have been using them for quite some time – Westworld, Gravity, and Shape of Water are just a few productions to have utilised Mo-Sys’s remote head tech, whilst our VP solutions are currently employed by Netflix productions.

The current situation, however, will prompt yet more still to take up the technology. And when they do, they’ll discover that the benefits go beyond safeguarding the health of their crew; realtime virtual production significantly reduces the need for post-production editing, saving time and money whilst providing producers with new creative opportunities.

Although the lockdown has put a pause on studios and broadcasters around the world, therefore, it seems that it’s about to trigger a revolution in film and tv production. 

If you’re currently looking at ways to integrate virtual production into your projects, please get in contact with us. Our expert technicians will be able to advise on the capabilities of our VP tech, and suggest the best setup for you. 

LiveLab Launch: U50 Remote Camera Control Head for Box Lenses

Designed and manufactured during the lockdown period, the U50 is a heavy-duty remote head that enables camera operators to safely return to work and control the biggest box lenses and heaviest broadcast camera set-ups remotely.

Offering the ultimate for camera remote control and remote production, U50 combats the current challenges and unique requirements in the Covid-19 affected world. Making it possible to operate large box lenses and cameras remotely, U50 achieves the same precision and agility when camera operators are controlling manually and on-site.

With no other remote head capable of smoothly and quickly operating box lenses and with on-site production crews dramatically decreasing, this innovation offers a new solution to tackle current challenges.  

Danny Zemanek, Freelance Camera Operator explained, “Previously remote production technology was an additional cost for broadcasters, but now it is essential to ensure camera operators can work safely. The U50 remote head from Mo-Sys represents a new way that operators can control big box lenses with the same precision and agility that we have come to expect.”

Built on the same high-precision backlash free drives in the successful Mo-Sys L40 remote head, the U50 head enables fast acceleration and deceleration of heavy broadcast camera packages with super telephoto lenses of up to 50kg. The unique combination of a U-shape space-frame design and zero backlash drives give U50 enough strength to achieve fast panning shots with no bouncing, even when zoomed in. Whether you are following a puck in an Ice Hockey game or trailing F1 cars on a racetrack, U50 allows you to precisely follow the action.

The U50 is specifically designed to allow remote operation, eliminating the need for operators to manually pan and tilt the camera onsite. Instead they can move the camera remotely from a control room with an intuitive pan bar that translates operator movements 1:1 to the remote head. And with the Mo-Sys TimeCam option soon to be made available, U50 has the potential to be operated anywhere in the world with virtually no delay by using Mo-Sys’ delay compensated global remote-control technique.

Michael Geissler, CEO Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd said, “Our U50 is ideal for sporting events and long-range filming environments. At the core of the U50 are our highly robust pan and tilt motors with zero backlash, providing lag-free operation. Using the power and sturdiness of the Mo-Sys L40 pan and tilt motors, but now with a double space-frame design, the U50 is Mo-Sys’ strongest head to date.”

Extremely strong and backlash-free drive units give operators instant and delay-free control. The precise gear drives enable flawless operation even with the biggest zoom lenses, unlike worm gear drives which can cause judder. The hole through the centre of the gear boxes for cable pass-through removes the need for slip-rings and makes it future-proof for high bandwidth digital video. This also allows for tangle free direct cabling.

Geissler added, “Just like the rest of our broadcast robotics and film remote heads, the U50 can be operated with a variety of input devices such as hand-wheels, pan-bar or joystick. It can be connected through a bus cable, ethernet or fibre for long distances. The button-console interface provides controls for pan/tilt velocity adjustment, input smoothing and direction, user defined position limits with feathering and axes zeroing.

“Whether you’re a freelance cameraman, work in production, broadcast, OBs, rental, virtual events, corporate or sports,” Geissler concluded, “Our U50 simplifies the operation of the head in remote-mode making it ideal for all those operating and involved – be they technical or not.”