ETC Releases First Section of Virtual Production White Paper

The Entertainment Technology Center@USC has begun releasing its case study entitled “Fathead: Virtual Production & Beyond.” Section 1 of the four-part white paper is “Cloud Computing: Growth Without Bounds.” “Everything on this production was done in the cloud, minus the shoot on set,” explains ETC@USC head of virtual & adaptive production Erik Weaver, executive producer of the 20-minute “Fathead” film. “We did some very innovative work, ingesting ARRI Alexa RAW to Amazon S3 buckets on the AWS cloud in real time, which had never been done before and I don’t think has been done since.”

“Fathead” shot on Amazon’s Stage 15 virtual production facility in Culver City and the team benefitted from AWS support engineers, who wrote custom scripts for the real-time cloud ingest. “It was actually writing to Amazon faster than it was writing to our local backup drive on stage,” Weaver notes.

Cloud Computing: Growth without Bounds “elaborates on the tools and processes pieces to show how we did it,” he explains. Uploading the original camera negative (OCN) to the cloud would normally take days, but the process was condensed through a combination of the AWS workflow, the technical capabilities of Stage 15 and the digital expertise of the crew.

“The idea was to use a short film as a paradigm for production processes of the future,” Weaver says, noting that in total about 350 people worked on “Fathead,” which this year received an NAACP Image Award nomination. The cloud-based AWS workflow employed by the “Fathead” team allowed for usage-based pricing, avoiding the need for large upfront infrastructure investments.

“We used cloud computing as a model for on-demand access to a configurable pool of online resources during the lifecycle of a film,” according to Weaver, from preproduction through production and post.

Written and directed by c. Craig Patterson, the “Fathead” narrative revolves around children and is set in a junkyard with elaborate backgrounds that would have been costly to physically build, not to mention dangerous for the young actors. That made the project an ideal case study for a volume stage in which the environments were all built digitally, by teams in Greece, New York and Los Angeles.

Perforce Software’s Helix Core version control allowed artists in the different locations to work on the same scene simultaneously via the cloud. Arch Platform Technologies built the virtual machine that allowed the various tools to interoperate seamlessly and safely in the cloud.

While section one covers the cloud-first aspect of “Fathead,” the following white paper sections will be released shortly: “Sound Mitigation,” dealing with reducing echo in a volume; “State of the Industry,” covering “where we’re at, and where we’re going;” and “Fathead: A Proof-of-Concept Short Film,” covering on-stage tools and processes.

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