A PFTrack Twist on a Dickensian Drama

27 Jul, 2016 | CUSTOMER SUCCESS STORIES, PFTRACK

When it comes to delivering visual effects of the highest quality, PFTrack plays a crucial role in helping companies successfully achieve their creative visions. When tasked with producing visual effects for a high profile television show, effects specialists Lexhag, knew there was only one matchmoving software up for the job – PFTrack.

The show in question was BBC drama Dickensian, which in December 2015, brought a new take on the infamous writings of Charles Dickens to our TV screens. The 20-part series sees the iconic author’s most famous characters, from Miss Havisham and Bill Sikes to Ebenezer Scrooge, all united in one storyline, and set on one street.

It was Lexhag’s task to bring this reimagined street to life, and to recreate the Victorian scenery depicted in Dickens’ novels. To make this vision possible, the company employed PFTrack to help develop the set extensions and sky animations.

Having over the years provided them with unparalleled matchmoving capabilities, PFTrack has become an integral component in Lexhag’s visual effects pipeline, and has been used exclusively for matchmoving across their other successful TV work; The C-word and Poldark to name but a few.

Daniel Newlands, not only an avid visual effects blogger and valued member of The Pixel Farm’s user community, is Lexhag’s 3D lead. He tells us how Lexhag brought Dickensian’s 19th century storyline to life using state of the art PFTrack technology.

Matchmoving in the Right Direction

Dickensian, much like the other TV shows Lexhag have worked on, required a very quick turnaround. Therefore, an efficient matchmoving method in PFTrack was necessary in order to deliver consistent and effective results for the set extensions, throughout the series.

PFTrack’s unique capability of handling lidar data with ease, has resulted in it playing a significant role in Lexhag’s visual effects pipeline. Using this technique has allowed them to produce outstanding set extensions, including the recreation of the famous copper mine from the popular TV series, Poldark.

Also greatly favoured by Lexhag, is the use of photogrammetry in PFTrack. Only requiring a camera and an understanding of how to take the appropriate images, PFTrack’s unrivalled photogrammetry toolset has allowed Lexhag to produce matchmoving results of a similar quality and accuracy to lidar, but without the large price tag.

However, without the sufficient access to set in order to capture the required images for a photogrammetry workflow, it was unbeneficial for Lexhag to primarily use the method for this project. Furthermore, with their success of using lidar data for Poldark in their repertoire, Lexhag knew that embracing a lidar workflow in PFTrack would allow them to produce impressive set extensions for the Dickensian project.  

“You know exactly what you’re going to get when you’re on set using lidar,” Daniel explains. “You can check the data straight away, which is a benefit if there isn’t much time to get what’s needed.”

By utilising lidar technology for matchmoving, Lexhag would be able to save masses of time due to the accuracy and the instant availability of the data in PFTrack. And most importantly, accommodate to the tight deadlines.

Ready, Set, Track

For Dickensian, Lexhag needed to complete a set extension for every shot where the camera would see above the first floor of a building, which involved creating another floor, before adding a roof and sky.

“The first thing we did was lidar scan the entire set,” Daniel reflects, “we then brought the data back to the office, registered it together, and used it as our base for everything.”

Top down view of the full Dickensian set

From here, Lexhag’s 3D team could get to work, “modelling proxy geometry based off the lidar data, then extending on top of that to make the CG building extension,” Daniel explains.

Once Lexhag started to receive episodes of Dickensian to work on, they would import the lidar data into PFTrack, which allowed them to align and track their cameras into scene perfectly.

Initially, dealing with the 45 million points from their lidar scan was a daunting prospect for Lexhag, as the sheer size of the data could have proved challenging to handle. However, as Daniel explains, “The way PFTrack’s Survey Solver handles caching the large lidar data sets is pretty impressive. It allows us to load in tens of millions of points and dynamically reduce the density to use the data set on any machine in the office, and not just the most powerful ones.” He adds, “because of the way PFTrack handles the point data it makes it extremely quick for artists to get shots tracked and laid out.”

As a result, Lexhag were able to turn around 20-30 shots in a day using this method; an outcome that would not have been possible without the accuracy of PFTrack’s camera tracking with lidar data.

From this point, Daniel explains, “all we needed to do was export from PFTrack into 3D animation and compositing software. And because we were all working in the same world space, set by the lidar data at the start, it dropped right into the correct place.”

Organisation is Key

PFTrack’s easy to use interface and management system was extremely valuable for Lexhag, as staying organised on a high-profile project with a fast turnaround, was key in order to deliver the show’s episodes on time. With PFTrack, Lexhag were able to effectively organise the Dickensian project for maximum productivity.

“The way we work in PFTrack is to have a separate project for each episode, which contains all shots for that episode,” Daniel explains. “This really helps with keeping track of what needs to be done. It’s also great as you can work on all the shots at once, run an auto track in the background and start setting up the next shots. Then once shots have been approved I’ll usually group them into their own folder for another level of organisation.”

PFTrack Lives up to Great Expectations

Working on TV series requires companies like Lexhag, to produce high quality visual effects, often in a limited time-frame. With PFTrack’s unique lidar capabilities, Lexhag could track their cameras seamlessly, and deliver the amazing set extensions for Dickensian, without fear of missing a deadline.

Daniel discusses, “when we work on TV series, we don’t have time to get 100% pixel perfect tracks, but the great thing with PFTrack is that we can get our work to the pixel perfect stage with just a few hours of work, rather than days.”

Due to their success with PFTrack, Lexhag continue to use the software exclusively for matchmoving in their TV productions, using both lidar and photogrammetry techniques. Currently in production are the shows, Rillington Place, Halcyon, as well as the highly anticipated second series of Poldark.

Conclusion

Integrating PFTrack into visual effects pipelines can not only provide companies with endless creative possibilities, but can also save masses of time with its pin-point accurate camera tracking. Lexhag have proved that when the right tools and processes are used for a project, quality results can be delivered in the shortest of time frames.

With his extensive knowledge of the software, Daniel has contributed greatly to The Pixel Farm’s User Community with support and advice for fellow users of PFTrack. He has also written several educational posts about PFTrack on his own blog, including an insight into his lidar workflow for Poldark, and a comparison of a photogrammetry vs. lidar workflow in PFTrack.

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