PRODUCTION. OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH
In capturing 60K footage and manning a 165ft LED volume for high-seas comedy Our Flag Means Death, Stargate Studios founder Sam Nicholson may just have landed his virtual production white whale Thar she glows!
WORDS. Lee Renwick IMAGES. Warner Media & Sam Nicholson
I f you’ve sat down to watch an episode of Taika Waititi-produced, swashbuckling comedy-romp Our Flag Means Death , you may have been fooled into thinking Rhys Darby and co truly set sail during filming. In fact, what you’re seeing is yet another milestone for in-camera VFX virtual production. Because only one crew took to the seas during the creation of this series, and it was that of Sam Nicholson. “I had collaborated with Mark Costa from HBO on virtual production before,” he explains. “A few years ago, we did a show called Hooligan Squad . It was fully green screen – very ambitious – and we pulled it off. The pilot didn’t go, but it looked fantastic and, for the time, was futuristic. Next, we did Run for HBO, set mostly on a 250ft-long train. We shot plates all across the US, then remapped them onto 40 4K monitors on a set in Toronto. And that worked, too. Both were scary conquests of virtual space. “So I’d worked with HBO, and did some very successful tests with Taika for Akira . It was all on LED and, although that hasn’t been made yet, the footage looked great. As Our Flag Means Death was set to begin, Mark called me and asked, ‘Can we shoot an entire pirate series without leaving a sound stage?’ I have a great team at Stargate that I bring unusual challenges to – and we figure them out.” As planning began, ever-developing virtual production was one leading option for tackling this unique set of circumstances. Building and launching a sailable pirate ship is near impossible within the timescale and budget of even
the largest blockbusters. What’s more attainable is creating plate footage in a technology-driven way. A VAST ARRAY “We only had six weeks of pre-production when the show finally got green-lit,” Nicholson continues. “Rendering water at the scale we were going for was out of the question. David Van Dyke, the visual effects supervisor, and I quickly decided live-action plates were the right decision. “A stabilised array of five Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12K cameras was chosen for three reasons: image quality, data handling and resolution. There’s a lot of risk involved in all production decisions. Hardware dependability and relationships with manufacturers are critical to success. We relied heavily on Blackmagic hardware, for instance – not only in image capture, but also the playback and distribution of assets.” Puerto Rico was the primary location, so Nicholson and his small team of experts set out on a boat for an intensive few weeks of shooting. What began
CHANGE OF SCENERY Many hours of plate footage were captured, to ensure all kinds of weather and light conditions could be screened on the volume
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