Ball State’s New Virtual Studios Up and Running

Ball State University’s new virtual studios are now in full use at the school’s Teleplex facility in Muncie, IN. The virtual studios combines Vinten Radamec manual encoded pedestals and pan/tilt heads, Fujinon digital lenses, an Orad rendering platform and Ultimatte 11 blue/green screen compositing hardware. The studios have been used for such productions as a pilot program for a cable network, the university’s PBS affiliate WIPB’s fund raising auction, and a variety of student projects. The PBS station’s evening news program is also slated to be produced in the virtual studios.

“If we’d done the cable network pilot with a physical set, set construction, production, and teardown would have tied the studio up for almost a week,” says Jason Higgs, 3D Creative Director at the Teleplex. “But with the virtual studio system we spent one day tweaking the set and lighting, and we were ready to shoot the next.”

Teardown consists of clicking a mouse to replace the virtual set in the background, and moving the few practical pieces on the set.

The Teleplex houses a pair of studios: a smaller 30’x40’ studio which will serve the news program and smaller projects, and the main 40’x60’ with a coved cyclorama backdrop painted entirely in chroma key green. The Vinten Radamec manual encoded pedestals are quickly moved between the studios and take only a short time to re-center the pedestals and cameras to the new studio.

By using the encoded pedestals and pan/tilt heads to supply positional data to the Orad rendering platform instead of relying on a background grid for positional information, producers at Ball State can take full advantage of the shadow-casting features of the Ultimatte 11 keying system. Shadows cast from on-camera talent and practical set pieces are important to a realistic blending of talent and set pieces with the virtual background.

Use of the encoded pedestals and pan/tilt heads also give greater creative freedom to the director, allowing composition of shots that do not include enough of the background grid to provide positional data, and the ability to work with a shallow depth of field, where the background grid is not clear enough to track the background.

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