Planet X FX

a midsummer night's christmas

Modern Love Amsterdam, episode 3 'The Big Questions' is a great example of how virtual production with the use of LED backgrounds can solve multiple productional challenges in one sweep. Shot at ReadySet Studios Amsterdam, in-camera VFX were used extensively to create a virtual outdoor environment in winter with mist and bespoke Christmas decorations.

Benjamin comes home to celebrate Christmas with his father Chris and his two older brothers, Alex and Marius. It’s their first Christmas without their mother Lies, who passed away after a prolonged illness in the spring. At Christmas dinner, Benjamin wants to uphold one of his mother’s traditions, which is to ask each other ‘The Big Questions’. This meets serious resistance from his brothers.

The production's schedule was set for a shoot in summer. In fact: on and around the longest day of the year, scenes were planned that would ideally require the longest night. Apart from that, the director and creative crew sought a specific look and feel in atmosphere in which mist would be ever present throughout the exterior scenes. Together with outspoken production design, requiring control to create more subtle, understating Christmas decorations, all seemed to point to shooting in a controllable environment that virtual production (or ICVFX) could provide.

Some shots were realised on location, the lighthouse added afterwards in VFX to ensure the right location within the frame. Mixing actual location footage for establishing shots while covering the more time-consuming dialogue-scenes with actors in a LED studio, proves to maximise the advantages VP can offer.

Set in the picturesque village of Marken, occupying a peninsula on a lake (and therefore has a lighthouse), also has characteristic wooden houses that adds to the dreamy atmosphere of the episode.

To allow the crew control over the necessary factors mentioned before, the decision was made to create a virtual version of the village's centre. Having a responsive, real-time Unreal scene of the actual location, meant the dop could still make dynamic (hand-held) shots and last-minute adjustments to light and other elements that define the final result in-camera.

Photogrammetry was used to create a virtual version of Marken. More than 1500 photos of the main street of the village were taken to get a good 3D solve.
The resulting geometry can not be used as a production ready (final) asset of the environment, but does provide a solid starting point to enhance the 3D scene.
what is photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry is the art and science of extracting 3D information from photographs. The process involves taking overlapping photographs of an object, structure, or space, and converting them into 2D or 3D digital models.

A short breakdown showing the photogrammetry process of turning 1500 photos taken in the village of Marken into a virtual copy of the main street. 'Digitising' the environment allows for control over light, materials, decorations, etc. in the virtual scene and serves as a background in an equally controllable, indoor studio setting.
The lighthouse of Marken, nicknamed 'The Horse' as a reference photo. Using a photo would limit the possibilities for use in the studio, as the angle, light and reflections are 'a given' based on this static 2D image.
The Unreal version of the lighthouse, under construction. a 3D model allows to shoot it from whichever angle is needed, giving much more freedom to camera movement (as well as re-lighting, moving reflections, etc.)
traveling without moving

Next to advanced virtual 3D scenes, Modern Love Amsterdam 'The Big Questions' also required scenes taking place inside a bus. One of the challenges was getting the full size city bus into the studio and in front of the LED-wall to play back pre-shot plate footage of an early morning sunset.

In-camera reflections and light interactions are preferred over chroma-key solutions whenever possible and realistic occurrences such as fogged windows to enhance the wintery setting are complex and time-consuming to achieve with VFX techniques.