Pixotope, the open software developer of solutions for virtual studios, augmented reality (AR), and on-air graphics, recently partnered with production company Space Warp Engine studio (part of That’s It Media) to scope out possibilities for the first season of an experimental virtual character talent competition 2060. The 10-part series aired on China’s Jiangsu Satellite TV, the third-largest Chinese network.
Space Warp Engine Studio wanted to exploit virtual production technology to create something never before seen by the target audience of 18 to 35-year-olds. In addition, they wanted to whet the appetite of Chinese audiences for the concept of futuristic virtual talent competitions.
AR performers take to the stage
The series sees 30 teams design, model, and animate 3D performers who are puppeted using motion capture. They compete live on a green screen studio stage. Live studio judges, together with a blended live and virtual audience, then watch the virtual stars perform and can interact with them on stage via 2 screens.The action transitions seamlessly between live AR and five landmark virtual scenes, known collectively as Star Ring City. To maximize the visual experience for viewers, the complexity and ambition of episodes increased throughout the series. Visual effects were realised by the technical team as the world and environments evolved around the show’s characters.
Blended virtual and live audience
2060 combines a live studio audience with a virtual crowd of thousands more. To enable this, Pixotope wrote a tailor-made high-performance virtual crowd generation system for real-time use. The system gave program makers a customizable framework that pulled in randomized audience characters and ensured optimum flexibility and performance of the virtual audience. It was also lightweight in terms of rendering, allowing many thousands of characters to animate simultaneously in real-time.
Real-time live pick-up workflow
Collaborating closely with Space Warp Engine studio, Pixotope designed a bespoke virtual production workflow before the start of filming. Pixotope then worked extensively with the production team on location in Shanghai and Nanjing, sharing knowledge and experience while helping to refine novel workflows.
Pixotope designed and implemented a live pick-up workflow for the team, recording the tracking data from the 10 studio cameras and building a custom timecode-based tracking lock for the production, which enabled a second rendering workflow. This allowed seamless transitions from live recording into a fully operational post workflow, so that if one of the motion capture routines went awry or any other content needed to be adapted, it could be recreated and rerun as live.
Integrated to this flexible workflow were keying, automatic tracking labeling, live tracking match, and advanced compositing using the additional tools in the Pixotope compositing toolkit, all easily streamlined and accessible to aid the team of vendors and facilitate the production.
Considering the show’s focus on detailed animated characters, the production required the idols to be rendered at a quality not usually achieved in real-time. Pixotope integrated the DLSS deep learning technology from NVIDIA to enhance the live rendering process, enabling the highest quality real-time visualisation for the studio audience. To deliver the peak cinematic-quality rendering of the animated stars for the home audience, post-production techniques were employed.
Working closely with Pixotope as its technology partner and fully exploiting its real-time engine, Space Warp Engine studio and 2060 demonstrated the potential for cinematic quality virtual talent shows on television. After the first episode aired, the show’s V-life characters immediately captured the audiences’ attention, sparking trends and discussions on Chinese social media. As a result, a second season has been planned for 2022.
Leveraging the power of Unreal Engine for a brand new kind of variety performance, Pixotope provided an easy interface and bespoke modules for teams new to virtual production to leverage the power of Unreal Engine whilst providing training and support to those teams throughout.
Gong Yizhao, CEO, of That’s It Media said: “We wanted a platform that was stable and, at the same time, allowed us to make last-minute changes in real-time. Pixotope allowed us to do all that. In addition, the team from Pixotope was extremely supportive and we had a really good experience.”
Andrew Tan, VP of Sales APAC for Pixotope added: “Working in close collaboration with Space Warp Engine studio, we were able to develop and deliver fundamental workflow changes in Pixotope to help them realize their visions. Throughout the process, and as the requirements changed, we were able to advise and respond. The final result is ground-breaking and visually stunning. The creativity and resourcefulness of Space Warp Engine studio is exceptional and we are proud to be associated with this production.”