When Keyframe Studios, an award-winning animation and visual effects company, created a concept prototype to reduce green-screen post-production compositing time, they needed assistance taking it to the next level, and in making it sophisticated enough to hit the commercial market.
Keyframe Studios’ visual effects division, Krow VFX, is based in St. Catharines and partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation team for their expertise in developing a wireless product. A technology that would lessen the work load for artists trying to track green screen movements that have no valid reference points. In addition to the original X-Men movie and many others, the studio also worked on many television series: Penny Dreadful, Warehouse 13, Expanse, and Altered Carbon to name a few.
Green screen filming in the motion picture industry requires fixed reference points on the green screen in order to synchronize post-production rendering of the background scenes. The reference points allow the software to anchor the backgrounds in reference to the moving actors and foreground elements. While these fixed reference points are sufficient when camera movement is slow, they become blurred and lose registration during accelerated movements.
Krow collaborated with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and Digital Media teams at NC to develop a wireless visual effects digital tracking aid prototype using addressable “Blink” LEDs, and a user-friendly interface. Students and staff researchers, from areas such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Programming, created hardware consisting of LED lights that are influenced by an accelerometer and software to control the LED unit’s on or off function.
The program, which controls the wireless green screen reference points, connects with the sensors via a wireless signal and controls the rate of blinks per frame, as well as tracking the location of the camera in reference to those lights. The early proof-of-concept prototype is set up with software in mobile app form and using Bluetooth technology to transmit information to the nodes.
The company is entering into the second phase of the project with the College and will look into finding alternatives to the current technology that will enable faster transfer rates and low latency, explains Clint Green, Co-founder of Krow VFX.
“And there are a variety of functions that we have yet to implement into the software, size and weight issues with the nodes, mounting requirements for the camera base unit and node mounting issues. So as you can imagine, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done before we can test in real-world conditions. But the prototype is working, so a significant amount of the heavy lifting is behind us.”
No such product currently exists in the market, so the success of this device opens the door for Krow to significantly increase their productivity and create a market with other production companies worldwide.
“Of course we will take advantage and use as part of our on-set package, but eventually we plan rental units and sales,” says Green.
The project was made possible through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev).
“The team has been great. I am surprised each time I visit how talented and professional the students and staff are,” adds Green. “From day one we felt as if we had engineering partners and that was important to us… our success had to be the college’s success.”