Chapman steps into the future of cinema with virtual LED production wall
On a recent Friday, cameras rolled over a vast expanse of treeless tundra. On Saturday, the decor had moved to an elegant ballroom, then Sunday, to the edge of space. All without the filmmakers ever having to leave Chapman University’s Digital Media Arts Center.
This is the new virtual reality for students at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in Chapman. A newly installed virtual LED production wall allows them to create digital settings for scenes as wild and diverse as their imaginations.
This is where Hollywood is heading, and Chapman’s students are already there.
Explore the technology used on “ The Mandalorian ”
Director Ethan Ganouna ’21 and his team were Chapman’s first students to test the new technology, which was inspired by the platform launched for Disney’s “The Mandalorian”. Dodge is believed to be the first film school to install an LED wall allowing students to explore virtual production, combining the worlds of live action and digital cinema.
“At Dodge, we really want to be the film school of the future,” says Madeline Warren, associate professor of filmmaking, president of media arts and director of the Institute for Creative Reality at Chapman. “We want to prepare students to enter a rapidly changing industry so that they can jump right in and keep up with new technologies.”
Ganouna and his team of students stood on two feet as they shot a video clip which is Ganouna’s thesis project. The video features a new album by his band, North Morlan, named after the Chapman Residence where he and his comrades first met.
Opening the digital door to “ fancy and fantastic ” settings
The video is for a track called “Spaceman,” and the experience places the students where few filmmakers have gone before.
“We are using technology to get some great, fantastic places that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get, especially during the current (COVID) restrictions,” Ganouna said.
The great figures of film production have now made a leap into the industry, which is only just beginning its journey with virtual production.
“I really think it’s the future,” Ganouna said.
“ Something every producer will fall in love with ”
Because the technology provides location flexibility as well as easier integration of animation with live action, “it’s something every producer will fall in love with,” added JP Dellanno ’21, director of photograph on the video clip. “Once that gets more mainstream, I think the prospect of having a 12 hour sunrise, if you will, will be huge.
The 9-foot-tall Dodge Virtual Production Wall unites the Unreal game engine used for multiplayer computer games like Fortnite with powerful graphics cards and camera tracking. The blend allows filmmakers to blend their favorite facets of physical and digital filmmaking.
Lights, camera and sand covered floor
For their first scenes of their music video, Ganouna and her team hauled sand and gravel so that the live-action terrain under the performers’ feet could match the tundra in the digital background. When the decor moved to the ballroom, the team assembled hardwood floors and hung side curtains around the edges of the 16-foot-wide screen.
It took some serious tweaking of the lights and camera angles to perfectly blend the physical and the digital, but now students are light years ahead of their peers in understanding the process.
“Dodge students are already very popular in the industry because they are so well trained,” said Warren. “People in the industry believe that Dodge students who come in with virtual production knowledge will be a real asset to their productions from the start.”
Mix film with computer science and engineering
As the new program is developed, Warren also sees opportunities involving Chapman’s faculty and computer and engineering students.
For Ganouna and Dellanno, virtual production training began in January with an intensive four-week virtual production workshop taught by Dodge faculty and film / visual effects technology experts Dan Leonard and Ben Bellot. The Workshop is where Ganouna and Dellanno met Sam Brown ’22, a major in film production with a minor in VR and AR. Class members began to create environments for the music video.
When Ganouna and his crew gained access to the wall, Brown worked to resolve issues late into the night and then provided technical expertise throughout the three days of filming. During the final space scenes, when Dellanno pointed to an open area of the LED backdrop and called for another nebula, Brown was ready to deliver on the fly.
These days at Dodge, that’s how the stars are born.
“Chapman does such a good job not only with virtual production, but also in digital arts and visual effects, offering up and coming niche courses and technology,” Brown said. “As students, we have a great chance to get ahead of the industry.”
Learn about the state-of-the-art facilities available to Chapman film students.