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https://www.panoramaaudiovisual.com/en/2021/10/19/butcher-bird-studios-virtual-productions-ultimatte-12/

Butcher Bird - Ultimatte 12 - Blackmagic Design

Ultimatte 12, the Blackmagic Design 12G SDI-enabled digital compositor for UHD content, powers the latest virtual productions from California-based Butcher Bird Studios.

Butcher Bird Studios is a production services company specializing in the creation of interactive virtual events for players such as Legendary Digital, Netflix and Twitch, among others. The company, led by Jason Milligan and Steven Calcote, began working on these virtual environments generated via Unreal Engine in 2019. While they found the possibilities of the system fascinating, as their lead technical director, Griffin Davis, recalls, they needed a setup at a contained price point to “do the same thing” as Disney in The Mandalorian, but without their “unlimited money.” With that goal in mind, “we toiled and struggled, tested, built and re built.”

Among the first projects on which Butcher Bird employed some of these techniques was Orbital Redux, a sci-fi adventure broadcast live from a stage with a green backdrop using various Blackmagic Design rigs. Davis elaborates: “Blackmagic equipment played an essential role in ‘Orbital’. We could not have made the show without it. We used Blackmagic URSA Mini’s, URSA Mini Pro’s, Micro Studio Cameras and multiple ATEM Switchers. With these many different pieces of technology being routed through our mission control switching stations, we knew that all of the gear would communicate well with each other.”

Today, Butcher Bird is increasingly tackling virtual production projects. In order to strengthen his business and approach image processing in a different way, Davis decided to implement the Ultimatte 12 compositor and the Ultimatte Smart Remote 4 device from Blackmagic Design.

Butcher Bird - Ultimatte 12 - Blackmagic Design

Ultimatte 12 workflow

In Butcher Bird productions, the live signal from the camera is transmitted to the Ultimatte to place it in the foreground, while information regarding its position is simultaneously used for the purpose of positioning a virtual camera. That information is used by the software to send an animated background to the device in order to perform the composition with the elements in the foreground. “We also send a garbage matte into the Ultimatte so that the camera operator can tilt around the entire world, no longer having to constrain themselves to the confines of a green screen,” Davis comments.

In total, the company has acquired three Ultimatte 12s for its studio. Each of these units is connected to a camera for the purpose of multi-camera productions. The information is also sent to three computers running Unreal. “We use multiple Blackmagic SDI distribution boxes and converters to send monitor feeds to our numerous operators to ensure the real time feedback. While the plethora of hardware creates quite a bit of cabling work for our team, it’s also a good failsafe. Running three separate feeds ensures that none of the Unreal computers are over tasked,” notes Davis.

They then send the data to one of the Ultimatte units, which makes the final composition and transmits it to the cameras, to the people responsible for switching live images, and to several Hyperdeck Studio 12G devices, which record the signals and the final version.

Butcher Bird - Ultimatte 12 - Blackmagic Design

The potential of virtual production

The concept of an “accessible and affordable” virtual environment has opened up unique possibilities for Butcher Bird, allowing them to increase their creativity and the range of services they offer their clients. Luis Reyes, the studio’s executive producer, says: “We are best when we work with the client at the inception of a project, where we can illuminate capabilities clients may not know are possible. In a sense, we become creative partners for their endeavor.”

Turning to Davis, he sees the addition of an Ultimatte 12 and the opportunities this offers as opening the door to a promising future for Butcher Bird Studios: “While it might sound corny, our new system makes the limit of our productions our own imaginations, rather than constrained by budget, time, or technical skill. I foresee this continuing a trend that began in my eyes with digital filmmaking, where the means of production becomes so accessible that professionals and consumers alike all have access to the same tools, and effort and creativity become the catalyst for spectacle. This is quite an inspiring wave to be a part of, as the power is ever moving closer to the creators’ hands.”

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For • 19 Oct, 2021
• Section: Study, graphics