This is part of an ongoing series of virtual production case studies.
Production Company: JP Connelly
Location: Los Angeles
Client: TBS Celebrity Show Off
The production studio JP Connelly, headed by James P. Connelly, recently produced some stunning virtual production pieces for Celebrity Show Off on TBS. Originally beginning as a television production design studio, they started using digital pre-visualization techniques 6 years ago. This allowed their clients more options, cutting down on the time needed to make changes. When the pandemic hit, this made them a prime candidate to create virtual sets for shows like The Masked Singer, and now to run production for pieces like this one.
JP Connelly used a Level 3 VP setup to create a creatively stylized extended set for the host to explore between segments, grounding the rest of the remote celebrity correspondence in a fantasy townhouse above a neon city. Tom Sullivan directs Mayim Bialik for this inventive blend of real and Unreal filmmaking.
The main reason this piece works as well as it does is due to the masterful combination of the virtual and physical sets. In motion, and even in pictures, it is very difficult to tell where they cross, which really sells the entire set.
As this is a Level 3 setup, JP Connelly used a realtime keying software on a greenscreen. A large cyclical greenscreen stage at Allied Studios in Simi Valley served as their backdrop, enabling sweeping crane moves over their virtual set. The key to their seamless integration lies in their use of a real railing for the set, which you can see in the photos below. This allowed the host to interact directly with the set, blurring the line between real and virtual.
James didn’t just show up on set to shoot, his company went above and beyond for this job:
We actually BUILT the green screen. There was a conflict during the pre-production process and we lost our original sound stage with a green screen so in order to keep the momentum going with the show, we actually constructed it. I believe the stage is going to leave it up.
Engine & Keyer
For this project, JP Connelly used Unreal Engine, a widely used and continuously supported solution for realtime effects and environments by Epic Games. Pixotope, a product of The Future Group with integration for Unreal Engine, was chosen to handle some of the heavy lifting on set:
This was our first go with Pixotope. We used it primarily for it’s data hub so we could integrate all the servers for each camera. We worked within a three camera shoot and had a fourth server for a virtual camera. We worked with Pixotope’s Keyer and control panel to operate our lighting cues and animations.
Pixotope is a common software used in virtual production, as its keying and on set controls streamline the process.
Motion Tracking Solution
Stype is the hardware tracking solution of choice for this project. Stype uses a system of infrared cameras and trackers to quickly and accurately track the motion of your camera in real time. These cameras face up and visually track pre-placed IR markers on the ceiling, enabling perfectly synced tracking, even when wireless.
James has seen a shift in the industry as his traditionally pre-production company sees more and more time on set. With their experience in live visuals, James has a positive outlook in spite of the challenges his industry faces:
…the challenge to learn new technology and the pressure to make our environments as photo realistic as possible has been exciting and very rewarding. Finally now, we are able to also lend our services to other designers and creatives by transferring their vision into 3D. In just four months, we’re already working on our fifth contract for virtual production now, and so excited about what the future holds.
A special thanks to James for filling us in on his companies’ process, I look forward to seeing more of your work. If you want to get in touch with James and see more of his work, you can visit the JP Connelly website at JPConnelly.com.