HPA Tech Retreat: ETC’s ‘Ripple Effect’ Beta-Tests Safetyvis

When COVID-19 hit, Hollywood (and other filmmaking venues) came to a near standstill, with movie theaters closed and productions halted. As DigitalFilm Tree chief executive Ramy Katrib noted, the M&E business is “uniquely unsuited to social distancing.” But Katrib decided to leverage Cinecode, the tools his company built for virtual production, to see if he couldn’t come up with a way to “visualize” safety on the set. At the Entertainment Technology Center@USC, senior consultant Erik Weaver worked with Katrib and beta-tested the result on the live-action short “Ripple Effect.”

Katrib explained that Cinecode was created to bridge the gap between virtual production and traditional physical production and post. With Cinecode, production environments are virtualized via a game engine into 2D, 3D and/or photoreal environments.

On TV show “Ted Lasso,” for example, producer Kip Kroeger revealed that Cinecode enabled him to create a CG stadium to plan out a complicated shoot in a real professional football stadium. “It gave us a huge cheat-sheet when we were there on the day of production,” he said. Katrib’s idea was to use Cinecode’s toolset to previsualize behind-the-scenes of a production, with the goal of planning for safety on the set during COVID-19. “To R&D this, we needed a test case,” he added.

That’s when Weaver entered the picture. On “Ripple Effect,” ETC’s latest short test film for virtual and remote production, he said, they had already “begun to unpack different technologies to create the safest on-set experience.” As “Ripple Effect” safety officer Catherine Shin put it, “we needed to be both efficient and practical in our workflows but also maintain a strong health and safety access.”

Weaver gathered 309 control practices from U.S. states, various countries and the Hollywood unions and entered them into a spreadsheet. “It’s hard to visualize on a spreadsheet,” he said. “So we took it to DigitalFilm Tree and brought it to a whole other level.”

The decision was made to do a LiDAR scan of the entire stage for accurate measurements. “If the idea of LiDAR on a phone catches on, it means anyone can have an accurate environment that they can creatively iterate in,” noted Katrib.

DigitalFilm Tree producer and game engine artist Andrea Aniceto-Chavez said that the scan also showed how many people could fit safely in the space. “In order to represent that, we developed ring lights,” she said. “Any time a person gets too close to another, the ring lights turn red. We can see where all the departments are and avoid the space getting too crowded.”

Katrib added that, “just by engaging in this planning process, you’re addressing safety.” Weaver pointed out the ease of use of a visual representation compared to a spreadsheet.

Having successfully proved the real-world use of Safetyvis on “Ripple Effect,” Katrib said he’s shown it to major studios and streaming platforms, to positive feedback. DigitalFilm Tree is now working on Phase 2 of Safetyvis.