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Behind the Scenes of the Netflix Series "Berlin"

Leek, The Netherlands (February 15, 2024) – Collaborating with the Vancouver Media team on the Netflix series "Berlin," ROE Visual played a crucial role in enhancing certain scenes utilizing virtual production technology with their advanced LED panels.

ROE Visual had the privilege of interviewing the Vancouver Media team, including DOP Migue Amoedo and Cristina López Ferraz, to delve into their experiences with the recent "Berlin" production and explore the seamless integration of virtual production technology.

Interviewing DOP Migue Amoedo

Q              Migue, you have worked with Virtual Production technology for the "Berlin" series. In some of the "Berlin" scenes, you and your team used an LED volume as a backdrop for the first time for scenes typically shot outside the studio.  What has motivated you and your team to try out this new technique?

A               Berlin is a vibrant and bright series that narratively required their actions to develop in a significant number of locations. This challenging characteristic for a series made our need for shooting optimization one of our top priorities. At Vancouver Media, we always try to innovate. I was very aware of the creative opportunities this technology could bring to the table, so when the chance came, we thought the series was the perfect playground to test the technology and train our crews in this new environment. Also, we were lucky enough to find ourselves accompanied by the best supporters and partners we could have for this new adventure.  

Q              At what point in the creative process did you decide to use VP?

A               Our initial plan was to take advantage of the crews while shooting episodes 1 to 4 to do some testing. Yet we felt so comfortable during those months that we dared to fully incorporate it from episodes 5 to 8 and expand the sequences shot with this method. We're pretty happy with what we accomplished.

Q              Was this the first time you implemented this technology in one of your productions?

A               Yes, this was the first time we used an LED volume in production; nonetheless, we already used some other virtual production techniques such as visualization, XR, and world capture during previous  Sky Rojo and La Casa de Papel seasons.

Q              What creative decisions were made possible, and new opportunities were created by access to this technology?

A              I would first and foremost highlight the chance to bring to the screen things that would be very difficult and expensive to shoot in other, more traditional setups, especially in series. I also underline the new opportunities this methodology enables in storytelling and for DOPs and filmmakers to create even more visually appealing and thrilling stories.

Q              When you think about your overall experience working with VP on set, did it change your approach and impact pre-production and the approach to planning scenes? 

A               As in any other innovation, there's a learning curve everyone has to overcome, and VP isn't an exception. The series' complexity and the final product's exigence made me focus more on the virtual production aspects, especially during pre-production. Fortunately, I counted on a trustworthy team that was there for me while I centered on the design of these scenes. As we progressed in filming, we functioned more and more well-oiled. Yet, using this technique requires meticulous planning and decision-making in advance.

Q              Using the combination of camera, LED volume, and lights, what are your primary considerations as DOP?

A               The ultimate goal of virtual production is to generate the most solid illusion of reality. All efforts of the DOP must be focused on this. The backgrounds in the volume must be treated with the same meticulousness as in traditional scouting. Whether filmed or generated by synthetic imagery, it's essential to care for the direction of the light, the time of day, and the weather effects. The camera must be positioned and moved as if it were in a real environment. The lighting should appear naturalistic, with the volumetrics found in reality, and focus on providing the correct levels of light contrast. Now more than ever, these decisions must be taken with a cinematic intention, ensuring that each visual element reinforces the narrative and authenticity of the scene. 

Q              We understand you sometimes use the LED volume as an alternative light source. Can you explain how that works for you and share any tricks? 

A               My lighting strategy on virtual sets is based on leveraging the existing force, like in the Japanese Aikido technique. The starting point is relatively straightforward. I strive to illuminate the scene using only the light from the LED volume itself. To achieve this, we generate "light rectangles" within the volume, brighter than the background and usually placed above and out of the camera's frame. We named them "VP Lights". They function as virtual lighting devices. The other part of this technique involves the interplay of large mirrors and reflectors that we have designed to bounce that light and use it to illuminate the foreground characters. Of course, we can always add any other light source (obviously, there are scenes where it is challenging to avoid incorporating another light). However, gradually, we have discovered the advantages of working in this way of elegant simplicity.

Q              There's a lot of technology involved in a VP setup. Does that change your role as DOP? Have you become more dependent on the technicians on set?

A               The essence of the role remains the same. We, as DOPs, work with light, texture, and composition, and the LED volumes are essentially a different source of light servicing the storytelling. It requires learning techniques similar to how we passed from photoquimic to digital cameras. Because we add a layer of complexity, collaboration with different experts becomes crucial; the team widens/ expands with experts in fields such as VP supervision, tracking, real-time rendering, etc. I would not consider it as more dependent but as even more collaborative.

Q              How do you approach color accuracy when working in an LED volume, and what are your experiences with the controllability of light (color space) and effects?

A               The viewer perceives chromatic inconsistencies in a scene as a lack of realism, so color accuracy is a fundamental issue. Today, in most cases, the light emission from LED panels is based on narrow-spectrum RGB emitters, meaning their Color Rendering Index (CRI) doesn't reach the values typical of standard wide-spectrum cinematic lighting sources. Mixing these lighting sources can lead to metamerism, where colors appear differently under different light emitters. This is precisely why using reflectors and mirrors significantly simplifies achieving uniform lighting. The bounced light not only amplifies the volumetric effect of the light in the scene but also perfectly matches the chromatic consistency between backgrounds and characters. Furthermore, the emitted light reacts to the behavior of reflective backgrounds and surfaces, thus contributing to greater visual coherence and reducing chromatic discrepancies. In larger studios, where the volume covers more than 180 degrees of the workspace and the incidence of the emitted light is massive, these challenges are already resolved. I must clarify that the workflow I've described applies to small or medium-sized volumes. And this is another valuable insight. We need to adapt the scalability of this system for each industry sector, ensuring that lighting solutions are effective regardless of the project's size or complexity.

Q              What would you like to see in the future development of Virtual Production to aid filmmakers?

A               Definitely more adoption. There is a world of possibilities to explore and more boundaries to overcome, but this entails the responsibility of all the manufacturers, distributors, and so on to teach their products and support the industry with a filmmaking lens. Also, having more and better tools to support film needs will help boost this still-new production method specifically.


Interviewing Production Manager Cristina López Ferraz

Q         Cristina, what do you see as the main advantages of the new LED/XR technology for Vancouver Media productions that motivated you to invest in this technology?

A               Well, the LED screens allow us to bring specific real locations to a soundstage with their associated commodities, enabling more controllability and sometimes even a safer setup. By saying so, this doesn't mean it works for everything, but it is a way to concentrate the shooting of specific sequences, including pick-ups and reshoots on some days, and this helps us optimize the shooting plan. Also, if well executed, this solution can help lighten postproduction times, especially during editorial.

Q              Working with VP technology in an LED volume changes the production process. How did this affect the planning, creative decisions, and production for the "Berlin" series?

A               As with any other asset, the more you use it, the more rentable it becomes, so when designing the different sequences, we had an eye on which ones would make more sense to bring to the LED volume. At the same time// Likewise, in some cases, the virtual set allowed shooting the story in a way that would be very difficult to achieve with more traditional approaches or simply too expensive. The aerodrome race and the air-jet scene are two clear examples of this. In this sense, if used wisely, this methodology can bring more tools to enhance/widen the creative vision in storytelling.

Q              Can you associate any positive effects with the new virtual production workflow?  

A               In addition to the creative benefits highlighted above, from a production standpoint, we experienced a remarkable reduction of VFX work during postproduction. This led to substantial resource optimization and a streamlined postproduction timeline, resulting in greater agility in final delivery and a quicker and more informed editorial process. Last but not least, the reduction in transportation, location logistics, and crew travel significantly reduces the impact on the territory and the carbon footprint and moves us towards more sustainable shootings.

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