Mo-Sys and Virtual Focus

The late, great director Alexander MacKendrick once said that the director’s job is to direct attention. Indeed, the ability of the director and DP to lead the viewer’s eye to the important part of the frame is the very foundation of movie-making.

One of the major tools in the DP’s toolbox is the ability to shift that attention by pulling focus and moving the visual plane to a new part of the picture.

Today’s emerging virtual production technology has highlighted how important such techniques are. DPs moving from traditional film production to the new virtual frontier have discovered certain limitations and innovators have been working to solve those overcome those limitations.

One such problem comes with the use of LED volumes. Photo-realistic graphics on multiple LED panels surrounding the real objects in the scene can look amazingly life-like but until now they have been mere backdrops, not able to become fully enmeshed with the scene in a way a real location can. Camera tracking means you can move around the foreground objects while maintaining perspective and parallax, as showcased recently on The Mandalorian.

But what could not be done, until now, is a focus-pull into the computer graphics. The LED volume was essentially a single fixed plane, so once the focus reaches the plane of the LEDs, there is nowhere to go. Until now.

Mo-Sys Engineering, using some ingenious and complex technology, has solved the problem. Mo-Sys first rose to fame for creating the camera robotics used in ‘Gravity’. They have garnered further industry acclaim for the Mo-Sys StarTracker camera tracking system, which tells the CG computer exactly where the camera is in three-dimensional space. It gained plaudits as it combined lens data with real-time positioning, meaning perspective and parallax can be recreated in such detail.

Mo-Sys has now added the ability to seamlessly pull focus between the real and virtual scene, whilst continually monitoring the camera’s position relative to the LED wall. The feature is called Cinematic XR Focus. Technically it is definitely not trivial: it requires considerable extra processing of the signal. The Mo-Sys VP Pro software, which is fully integrated with the Unreal graphics engine, has to simulate the change of focus in real time.

Most importantly, this solution has been developed with a practical use in mind. Focus pullers instinctively use Preston wireless lens controllers, set up for the specific lens mounted on the camera. The Mo-Sys solution takes the control signals from the Preston and allows it to move both the real and virtual focus plane up to the LED wall, then it seamlessly shifts to controlling just the virtual focus plane in the virtual graphics scene.

DP Brett Danton has tried the system on a test shoot in the UK. “This system opens up the XR image to work like a 3 dimensional scene by adding the last element depth,” he said. “Previously you had parallax but now you can focus through the screen, giving far greater freedom in creativity where the scene is reacting as if shooting on location.”

James Uren, CTO of Mo-Sys, said “There were a lot of problems we needed to solve, like moiré patterning between the grid of the camera sensor and the grid of the LED walls, as well as freeing the DP to move the camera and the focus puller to manipulate the lens, simultaneously, in real time for final-pixel shoots.

“But clever technology is no use if it gets in the way of the creativity,” Uren added. “So we made sure it works the way that people are used to, with the equipment they are comfortable with. The Preston controller reports focus as it happens, whether that is in the lens or in the computer. This software extension sits inside our graphics manipulation software, which in turn sits inside the Unreal graphics engine using nDisplay to drive the LED volume – the set-up used by most in this sector.

“We are giving an important part of the creativity, of the language of production, back to the people who are actively demanding it.”

Read the article on the British Cinematographer website here >

Mo-Sys brings precision happiness to ITV

Augmented reality project to bring happiness and optimism for Mental Health Week campaign uses StarTracker

Mo-Sys Engineering provided support for Bluman Associates and milkit Studio for a ground-breaking series of idents, part of the ITV Creates programe, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2021.

Mo-Sys StarTracker was chosen to bring the vision of artist Mamimu (June Mineyama-Smithson) and neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart to life, as a series of channel idents which “combine art and science to create ultimate optimism, inducing happy hormones in your brain,” according to the artist.

The creative idea they chose was to make a physical model of the familiar ITV logo in a mirrored material and sit it in an augmented reality studio where bold, colorful abstract graphics would interact with it. Studio Owner Pod Bluman recognized that central to the success of the creative vision would be absolutely perfect registration between the real and the virtual objects, while giving the camera complete freedom to move.

The shoot was at milkit Studio in north London, a dedicated mixed reality facility with an LED shooting volume – two walls and a floor in high density, 4k resolution.

“The idea of abstract imagery reflecting in the real, very shiny logo would only work if they stayed in perfect registration,” said Ben Tilbrook of Mo-Sys, who provided support on the project. “The camera was mounted on a jib so was moving freely around the logo. The Mo-Sys StarTracker is designed for just this sort of requirement – it gives the director and cinematographer complete freedom while ensuring the graphics computer is updated with positional information in real time.”

Mo-Sys StarTracker is widely regarded as the leader in camera tracking technologies, using a random pattern of reflective dots – “stars” – on the studio ceiling. Once mapped, which takes just a few moments, any StarTracker-equipped camera can be precisely located in three-dimensional space, and for pan, tilt and roll. With the addition of digital lens data, real elements can be placed into the virtual environment. It allows augmented reality sequences like this to be shot live, obviating the need to composite the layers in post-production.

“This was the first time we had used camera tracking on a project like this,” said Pod Bluman of Bluman Associates. “It performed admirably, giving the precision we needed in the shoot, reliably and without fuss or problems.”

Commenting on the finished sequences, Dr Tara Swart said “Mamimu and I had conversations about how the brain works, and about neurotransmitters that are related to happiness and optimism. I was just blown away by what she created – it literally made me happy to see it.”

Innovation and determination create success for Mo-Sys

Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys, has been featured in the CEO Today magazine in their CEO UK Awards 2021 Winners Edition for Manufacturing and Design, recognizing and celebrating exceptional business leadership and examples of excellence, even when faced with unprecedented challenges.

As someone with dyslexia and an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Michael Geissler has all of the essential qualities required to be a successful creative technology CEO! Over the last few years, he has managed to build an exceptionally talented team that’s driving the success of his thriving business, Mo-Sys Engineering.

Put simply, Mo-Sys is leading the way in technology-led innovation. The company designs and builds unique, highly sophisticated camera technology products for film and broadcast, such as camera tracking, broadcast robotics and virtual production hardware. Not only are these products rapidly transforming visual effects (VFX) and virtual production (VP) techniques that are vital to the modern-day filmmaking process, they are attracting global interest and serving customers in more than 50 countries around the world.

Mo-Sys exports 95% of its products overseas and customers include high-profile names such as Sony, Disney, Sky and Netflix. The company’s early adoption of LED wall technology for real-time VFX production has helped it to win work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gravity, the Oscar-winning sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

In addition, the expertise of Michael and his 60-strong team of staff has helped Mo-Sys to win work on a host of top television shows, including the recent series of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Mo-Sys provided the entire VP technology for the shows and this was instrumental in creating a range of stunning special effects.

Strictly Come Dancing Mo-Sys

All of this has enabled Mo-Sys to expand during the pandemic at a time when many companies have scaled back activities, furloughed staff or made redundancies. While there’s no doubt that the company wouldn’t have been as successful without the drive, innovation and entrepreneurial skills of its CEO and founder, Michael is quick to credit the expertise of his team for getting Mo-Sys to this point.

He says: “When I started Mo-Sys, one of the things I realised was the need to employ people in particular positions who could really help me take the business forward. The main emphasis was to build an open, creative culture with a family feel where staff could challenge the status quo. If you achieve this, suddenly everything goes into overdrive.

“Now we have technical experts, excellent project managers and people with sound business acumen who are able to identify and capitalise on commercial opportunities. I’ve also been careful to recruit people who want to make a difference and have a hardworking, collaborative “can do” attitude, people who can fit into our culture of mutual respect here at Mo-Sys.

“I’d like to think we’ve been successful in achieving this. We have a high staff retention rate, a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds and an agile entrepreneurial culture in which people are encouraged to express their opinions and ideas. This has been a major factor in our success to date. We also try to make staff feel valued by throwing in extra perks, including a free healthy lunch.”

Michael himself is a competent problem solver, very experienced in identifying gaps and opportunities in the market and developing tech solutions to address these gaps to make processes and systems more optimal and usable.

“Being self-taught has helped in this respect,” he says. “It has enabled me to keep an open mind, to try different ways of doing things to see which method works best. Some people are more resistant to change and settle on a particular solution, method or process. Here at Mo-Sys I encourage the team to strive continually to make improvements and challenge the status quo; this approach has paid huge dividends for us.”

Mo-Sys is about to embark on the next stage of its ambitious expansion plan, which includes the launch of three innovative start-ups and a strategy to forge more partnerships, create employment and drive entrepreneur and tech-led economic growth in the borough of Greenwich.

Michael says: “Our aim is to generate significant growth in the local economy by learning, experimenting and implementing new filming technology and supporting entrepreneurs who want to develop high-tech businesses in the area. We also want to continue forging strong relationships with education providers to build skills in filmmaking, VP and technology.”

Mo-Sys already has a strong bond with the University of Greenwich. Last year the company helped three of the university’s media and film students to complete their course when they couldn’t get on set to finish their filming projects. With social distancing rules in place, they were unable to get everyone together on set but Mo-Sys’ technology meant that most of the people could join the studio remotely. As a result of this assistance, all three students have now gone on to complete their studies and get jobs in the industry.

Highly skilled professionals will be needed by Mo-Sys as it pursues its ambitious expansion plans, which include doubling the size of its workforce to 120 within two years. The company has already demonstrated its agility in the COVID-19 pandemic, rethinking its existing products to see how they could be modified for use in the current climate.

Michael says: “We had to address how to increase productivity and efficiency even with people working from home. We’ve also made significant changes in our marketing strategy to help us remain visible to existing and prospective customers; this has been important as our main promotional activity – large-scale international trade shows – have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

While Mo-Sys’ recent growth has been impressive, it has been a challenging time.

“We felt it was vital to keep R&D going because we didn’t want to be overtaken by our competitors. COVID was an opportunity for smaller companies to overtake large companies. While the risk-averse finance directors of large companies furloughed many of their employees, smaller companies pivoted, adapted to new markets and started to increase their market share. Immediately before the first lockdown, I rethought our product strategy and started to develop COVID-friendly product lines.

Michael has now opened an outlet in Los Angeles and hired a further 23 staff for MoSys’ London and LA offices. As the workforce grows, he’s building a culture that embraces innovation, collaborative working and a continual desire to improve.

He says: “I listen to Jurga, my wife, who is great at spotting ways of improving our marketing and identifying talent who will take our business forward. She is very people-oriented and wants to make Mo-Sys one of the top 100 companies to work for in the UK. We won’t tolerate office politics or any bullying in our organisation; we employ people who enjoy what they do and are free to express their ideas and opinions.

“We are very optimistic about the future. Our growth plans are based on our ability to find innovative solutions to real-world problems and I’m confident that we will continue to do this.”

CEO Today United Kingdom Awards 2021

Read the full article in CEO Today United Kingdom Awards 2021.

Virtual production opens the door to a world of creativity

From high-end drama to sport and entertainment, virtual production is booming as travel restrictions bite and producers seek a safe environment in which to shoot.

In this article for Broadcast Tech in association with The Media Production & Technology Show, Tim Dams explores the recent surge in interest in Virtual Production techniques.

Both Garden Studios and Dimension Studio, who are featured in this article, mention Mo-Sys camera tracking as an integral part of their virtual production studio facilities.

Read the full article here.