At Livingstone Christian College, a virtual production studio and workflow built with Blackmagic gear give students a chance to learn and produce with professional cameras and techniques.

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Livingstone Christian College near Brisbane, Australia, with more than 1,300 students from early learning to year 12, runs a lively arts program that includes video production skills. Film and TV production teacher Kenji Lee has built a virtual production workflow to give students an opportunity to learn and create on the same tools used for Hollywood productions.

Lee, also the founder and managing director of a youth filmmaking organisation called One Song Foundation, and the school’s Head of Arts Gavin Coles began building the studio in early 2022 with support from the HTC VIVE Taiwan and Australia team.

Since he joined the school, Lee’s students have produced a number of social impact films, including consent and anti bullying short films and music videos during the pandemic. Most recently, they also produced a science fiction film using the virtual production workflow.

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“We want to encourage the students to create films that change the way people think but also prepare them for a career in filmmaking, if that is what they want to do. Because virtual production is the future of filmmaking, it makes sense to teach it,” Lee said.

Studio and Workflow

“Lots of universities are thinking about building LED walls and starting to teach virtual production. But most high schools have not recognised the potential for it yet. Similar to the universities, the students at Livingstone have a chance to learn hands on with the equipment and systems that professionals currently use. Blackmagic products are great for this sort of environment because they are affordable, high quality and easy to learn.”

The school’s virtual production set-up includes access to a 16ft x 9ft LED screen and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4Ks, and ATEM Mini Pro is then used for keying and syncing with the 3D images from Unreal Engine. These products are used in conjunction with the HTC VIVE Mars CamTrack system, which performs the accurate camera tracking and real time compositing needed for virtual production. Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is used for LUT creation and colour correction, as well as post production work including editing, grading, VFX and audio.

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For their first virtual production project, students created the interior environment of the story’s spaceship, which was displayed on the LED screen behind the actors. Pocket Cinema Cameras 4Ks captured both wide and closeup action, while the camera feeds were ingested into the ATEM Mini Pro.

Simplified Sync

“It is important that the students are involved hands-on with every aspect of virtual production and learn that it’s about more than simply working with the talent in front of an LED wall. You have to make sure every piece of gear on set is in sync, and understand how lighting, props and actors impact timing. It could be very intimidating for students if the equipment were too complicated. The Blackmagic products are an ideal fit for those challenges,” said Lee.

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Since their first virtual production, Lee has worked with the students to create several new projects using the same set-up, including music videos and musical theatre performances. He noted that the Pocket Cameras’ genlock features make them invaluable for virtual production, allowing the images from the camera to be synchronised with the images projected on the screen. The camera can start and stop recording, and all shots from all sources will have the same matched timecode. Later in post, DaVinci Resolve can also find and sync the shots automatically.

“The cameras are easy to set up, so instead of spending time trying to figure out how to make the cameras work the students are able to focus on their own creativity,” Lee said. “Furthermore, even though they are easy to use and learn with, the cameras record beautiful cinematic images, which means we don’t need to sacrifice the quality of the students’ work.”