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How alter ego Used Virtual Production to Fill a Soccer Stadium

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alter ego takes us behind the scenes of an action-filled soccer spot

How alter ego Used Virtual Production to Fill a Soccer Stadium

Renting a soccer stadium, filling it with thousands of screaming fans and organising an overnight shoot is an all too common request for commercial productions. Recently alter ego was tasked with exactly that; and after much debate over logistics, execution, and budget, the reality of practically shooting such a spot was impossible. The script changed, and the job never materialised.

With the success of the McDonald’s proof of concept spot using the LED Volume, alter ego began researching how to use virtual production for a soccer stadium. In the weeks following, alter ego once again collaborated with Pixomondo (PXO) and William F. White Int’l (WFW) and Virtual Production Academy (VPA) to solve the issue. Using the Unreal Engine and the LED Volume, alter ego developed a CG stadium environment, while PXO was building a 18,000 person CG crowd simulation to fill it in real time. With a simple story of a boy’s dream of taking the final kick to win the World Cup in a stadium of cheering fans, alter ego was set to shoot another virtual production.

“Showing off the technology is one thing but good visual effects doesn’t make a good story. We needed a hero, some tension and suspense so we decided to take a split second moment of a bicycle kick before the winning goal and turn it into a 12 second slow motion moment. This of course had never been done on the LED Volume and presented itself with a whole other set of problems,” says David Whiteson, co-director - alter ego.

When shooting slow motion on the LED Volume, a flicker is produced that made most of the footage unusable. “We found there was a max limit of about 200fps that could be shot on the wall, so we calculated the perfect frames per second to reduce the most amount of flicker. In tandem, we did extensive testing in post to work out how to remove the remaining flicker. The footage was then slowed down to 800fps,” said Eric Whipp, director of photography - alter ego.

With the cast and crew locked, the partnership between alter ego, PXO, WFW and VPA was set for a two day shoot at stage 6. Having worked together on numerous projects, the four companies might be the most experienced Virtual Production team in the commercial advertising space in Toronto. Using virtual production is not just about creating content for unattainable or fantastical locations, but also about providing a solution to push what’s possible, both creatively and budgetarily.

“Wrangling 20 fans as extras is a tall order but wrangling 20,000 fans would be impossible and extremely costly. The LED Volume solved that problem in a timely and affordable way,” says Matthew Manhire - co-director.

“When shooting something like this traditionally you’d have a green screen with a few rows of practical crowd and then you would do a crowd replacement afterwards. That can be very time consuming with expensive renders. Being able to do this in live and in real time is a much more efficient way to do it and you get to see exactly what your final product will look like right out of the camera,” said Jack Chadwick - virtual production manager, Pixomondo.

“I’m confident that this is the most people that have ever been virtually displayed in a virtual production anywhere,” said Ed Hanrahan - director of virtual productions, William F. White Int’l.

The two day shoot had the soccer game take place all over the virtual stadium. The practical recreation of stadium lighting for the players on the stage allowed for the production team to set the physical lights once, then digitally move and rotate the environment on the wall to simulate different areas of the field. At a real location the production crew would be moving all over the field, setting up track and camera equipment for every shot. With virtual production you can essentially leave the camera on the same dolly and track but move the environment on the wall in a matter of seconds.

“An unfortunate and added layer of production that occurs in projects of this magnitude is having to move all around stadium and shuffle the BG talent to create the feeling of a full stadium all while managing the the complexities of the action scenes. Shooting in a virtual environment meant that we could focus on creating dynamic football sequences that drive our story rather than the logistics of the background imagery,” says Matthew Manhire - co-director.

Shooting with two cameras for two days produced over 4 hours of footage left in the hands of Rooster resident editor Marc Langley. Not only does Marc bring the right sensibility to the project he’s also a huge soccer fan.

“Like any project you start out with one vision and it often seamlessly grows and changes throughout the entire process. Bringing Marc on long before the shoot proved invaluable. Through conversations with Marc and his years of experience as an editor, combined with his love and knowledge of soccer, helped us capture the right performance to help tell our story,” said David Whiteson, co-director - alter ego.

“I have done many spots over the years which needed stadium crowd replacement and cloning, and its always tricky to get the sense of realism and very time consuming! Working on this project was a dream! The footage out of the camera was so close to the final image, it helped while cutting the spot as nothing was left to the imagination! It really helped me craft the emotion of the spot!” says Marc Langley, editor - Rooster.

Once there was a locked edit there was very little post production needed. Virtual production allows for the capturing of final pixels. Other than a few CG footballs, some simple clean up and a day of colour grading the spot was finished. Music, sound effects and a traditional British soccer announcer was handled by Boombox Sound elevated the spot.

At the end of the day, alter ego, PXO, WFW and VPA delivered an action-filled soccer spot, inside a stadium full of fans, all within the confides of a studio, on time and on budget. Another huge accomplishment made possible through virtual production. 

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Alter Ego, Tue, 20 Sep 2022 14:32:00 GMT