Conceived as an idea in 2020, work at Vodafone Germany to design and build an ambitious, in-house production environment began in mid 2022 and has just recently come online. Digital content producer at the company Lukas Loss said, “Previously, we have delivered a vast amount of video, event content and TVC projects using external studios and partners.
“But that style of production was expensive and lacked flexibility. We figured that by building our own studios, we could lower production costs and preparation time, and at the same time widen the scope of what our production team could deliver internally.”
Through the team’s experience of the pandemic and beyond, they realised that virtual meetups and hybrid event delivery would be a more flexible model for conferences in the future. Working with systems integrator Sigma-AV, they soon began plan to build a completely modern studio with extended reality (XR) features that would allow them to develop those capabilities, and prepare them for the future.
“But beyond that, creating an XR studio with an LED wall and green screen space opens new creative possibilities internally,” Lukas said. “The social content team can continue developing the quality of its output, for example, which is already very competitive compared to most other brands.”
Dividing their work into three different spaces, Vodafone Germany’s communications team can now support XR productions, live streamed webinars and conferences with executive interviews.
The primary studio includes a master control room ( MCR ) for eight operators, a server room, a lounge area for interviews or recorded conversations and, as its main feature, a 15m curved LED wall for XR live production and events. The second studio area is a smaller green screen space with a pack shot area and an audiovisual podcast studio designed for up to four people.
While the in-house studio initiative would expand Vodafone Germany’s communication capabilities, the studio spaces had to be built within the existing company campus. “That meant space was limited,” Lukas said. “To make the design work, we rebuilt one section of our existing conference zone and transformed it into a multifunctional studio.
“But the biggest constraint during construction was the relatively low ceiling height. That’s why our LED wall is only three meters high and the lighting truss is positioned directly above the wall. Likewise, running so much hardware in one confined place produces a lot of heat, so we had to remove the old air conditioning unit and deploy the replacement in another building due to the noise it generates.”
Resolving those logistical issues paved the way to building and setting up the MCR, which required investing in considerable audiovisual hardware and display gear. Blackmagic Design was one of their preferred hardware suppliers.
“We chose Blackmagic’s hardware based on our previous experience with the brand and its products at other locations. Likewise, Blackmagic’s use of single link 12G-SDI connections fits our requirement for a 2160p50 production workflow, while keeping cabling requirements to a minimum,” said Lukas.
Running the Show – Cameras and Switching
Vodafone decided to purchase the URSA Broadcast G2 camera for its versatility – it is designed equally well for 4K broadcast style live production for streaming, and for 6K cinematic production displaying shallow depth of field. However, selecting cameras for virtual production involved coordinating several factors.
When combined with Blackmagic Fiber Converters, each camera channel requires just two cables – one for the camera and another for the camera tracking system needed to capture the screens in a virtual production. The remaining challenge for Lukas was ensuring the production didn’t run into moiré issues.
“We conducted tests to determine which type of cameras and LED resolutions would fit our budget, avoid any moiré and still give us the best image quality possible. In Blackmagic and Samsung, we have found the ideal combination to balance those requirements,” he said.
Supplementing that configuration is a Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Pro, set up with the Blackmagic Studio Converter and a 21-inch teleprompter screen. He noted, “This camera is a good choice for smaller set-ups that we can run on one cat6a cable, and which we can put into any venue that has an Ethernet port in the floor.”
In the control room, an ATEM Constellation 8K live production switcher and ATEM 2 M/E Advanced Panel run the show, with a Smart Videohub 12G 40x40 for routing video and remote camera control via an ATEM Camera Control Panel.
“The decision to implement ATEM was easy. We needed support for 4K 50p and the ability to handle 30 sources and 22 outputs during a typical production. Another important feature here is the four multiviewer outputs. We use three for the video engineers and another as a preview for the talent on stage or in the back office.”
Vodafone Germany’s virtual set workflow relies on a series of PCs each equipped with a DeckLink 8K Pro capture and playback card, for ingesting live camera feeds into their Unreal Engine and Ventuz broadcast graphics workflow.
“Both systems are fed camera tracking data from a dedicated tracking solution, with three PCs used to render out the built virtual sets - one for the virtual background on the LED wall, another for virtual objects/foreground and a third for compositing.”
When a virtual floor is required, Vodafone works in its green screen area, employing virtual sets composited in real time using Blackmagic’s Ultimatte 12 4K. “The Ultimatte’s edge handling and spill suppression are outstanding, and we can tune each Ultimatte to a specific camera’s view,” Lukas said.
"We can now cover a very wide choice of formats, which gives us more options and creative freedom. The main factor was to find the right tools to unlock that, while delivering the features and fast setup times we need in the studio. We're pleased with the results." www.blackmagicdesign.com