In December 2015, the BBC drama Dickensian brought a new take on the 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.
Following their successful TV work on shows like The C-word and Poldark, it was visual effects specialists Lexhag’s task to bring this reimagined street to life and 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.
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.
Matchmoving in the Right Direction
Dickensian, much like the other TV shows Lexhag have worked on, required a rapid turnaround. Therefore, an efficient matchmoving method was necessary to deliver consistent and effective results for the set extensions throughout the series.
With their success in using lidar data for Poldark in their repertoire, Lexhag knew that embracing a lidar workflow would allow them to produce impressive set extensions for the Dickensian project. This technique allowed them to make outstanding set extensions, including the recreation of the famous copper mine from the popular TV series, Poldark.
“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 could save masses of time due to the accuracy and the instant availability of the data. And most importantly, accommodate 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. Daniel reflects:
The first thing we did was lidar scan the entire set, we then brought the data back to the office, registered it together, and used it as our base for everything.
From here, Lexhag’s 3D team could get to work, modelling proxy geometry based on the lidar data, then extending on top of that to make the CG building extension. 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.
As a result, Lexhag were able to turn around 20–30 shots in a day using this method. From this point, 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.
Living 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 fantastic 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.
Integrating PFTrack into visual effects pipelines can provide companies with endless creative possibilities and save masses of time with its pinpoint, accurate camera tracking. Lexhag has proved that when the right tools and processes are used for a project, quality results can be delivered in the shortest of time frames.