80six, at the forefront of virtual innovation

In this interview with TM Broadcast International, Dan Hamill, the co-founder and commercial director of 80six, offers a peek behind the curtain of the innovative virtual production studio. 80six, an independent company celebrated for integrating high-end equipment with world-class video solutions, stands out in the entertainment technology landscape. With a passion for pushing the boundaries of live entertainment, corporate events, virtual production, and broadcast, 80six has carved out a name for itself as a leader in delivering cutting-edge in-camera visual effects and extended reality experiences.

 

The studio’s journey began nine years ago, fuelled by a vision to craft a multi-disciplinary hub for creativity and technological innovation. 80six’s studio in Slough epitomizes this vision, reflecting an impressive growth that doubles down on their commitment to revolutionize the industry. Their studio’s expansion signifies a stride forward in specialized vehicle processing using in-camera VFX—a testament to their ambition and foresight.

At the heart of 80six’s philosophy is a deep-seated belief in the power of collaboration and adaptability. Whether it’s handling the pressure of simultaneous productions or flexing their technical muscles to customize LED volumes for heavy-hitters like Netflix and BBC, 80six’s dynamic approach is a beacon for the future of virtual production. With a team that thrives under pressure and a relentless drive for innovation, 80six is not just keeping pace with the evolving landscape of virtual production—they are defining it.

 

When and how was 80Six born? Which are 80six strength points for the industry?

Reflecting on the inception of 80six, it was the shared aspirations and experiences with Jack James, my friend and business partner, that led to the founding of our company nearly a decade ago. Our extensive work with preeminent artists and iconic festivals fuelled a desire to venture into our own business, emphasizing stellar entertainment technology and exceptional client service as our core offerings.

Our studio in Slough, launched three years back, symbolizes our commitment to spearheading advancements in video technology, particularly for in-camera VFX and extended reality. The 2022 expansion of our facility to over 11,000 square feet has been a significant milestone, propelling us to specialize in vehicle processing for dynamic in-camera VFX.

The cornerstone of 80six’s identity is our team’s spirit. Our collective strength shines brightest when meeting the challenges of simultaneous productions, like the recent car shoot for a premier streaming service and a rapid turnaround extended reality project. It’s the synergy, resilience, and relentless pursuit of excellence within our team that sets 80six apart in the ever-evolving landscape of virtual production.

 

Can you tell us about your more recent works and developments?

At 80six, flexibility and bespoke solutions are the keystones of our operations both in-studio and on location. When we launched, our business model was unprecedented in the market. We were pioneers, offering custom-built stages and technology stacks tailored specifically for each production’s needs. This foresight put us at the forefront three years ago, and it’s gratifying to see the industry now catching up with our early vision of a mobile and flexible virtual production environment.

This adaptability has drawn high-profile projects from across the industry, including major players like Netflix, DNEG, BBC, CBS, and Paramount+. Our work on Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’ exemplifies our success, with its driving scenes shot on a custom LED vehicle processing stage, creating in-camera VFX that contributed to the show’s global acclaim.

Looking ahead to 2024, our ambition is to push the envelope further by enhancing our in-house production capabilities. Our goal is to offer comprehensive production solutions that align with our clients’ diverse and evolving needs. We’re not just responding to the market — we’re shaping it.

 

What are the key pieces of equipment that you rely on for your virtual production setups? How do you ensure that your equipment stays at the forefront of technology?

Both the virtual production techniques we employ –in-camera VFX for film & TV shoots or extended reality for broadcast, rely on the same technology with different integrations.

Our virtual production set-up hinges on cutting-edge technology, including ROE Visual LED screens of fine pixel pitches of 2.6mm, Brompton Technology image processing, disguise media servers, and Mo-Sys camera tracking. Staying ahead, we regularly upgrade our inventory and collaborate closely with manufacturers to test and access new technologies, ensuring our solutions lead the market.

In 2024, we will upgrade our offering by moving some of our screen into market (will be hard to say goodbye as its still does us a great service) and invest in a new screen of 300sqm+ to enable us to expand our capability for studio work and corporate events to support the next stage in our strategy.

 

In what ways do you incorporate state-of-the-art technologies, such as real-time rendering or motion capture, into your production processes?

We use advanced real-time rendering to run complex real-time scenes via RX nodes with our ultra-powerful disguise media server’s integrated with a video engine, such as Unreal Engine. We also display content at scale on multiple LED screens and virtual sets. The reliable RX range is ideal for such demanding real-time content.

 

Are 80Six using AI in any way?

Currently, we do not use AI, but we are exploring the possibility of integrating Cuebric for content tests and demos. Cuebric is an innovative AI generation studio that offers a Plug & Play 3D solution, which enables us to quickly turn 2D assets into near-3D (specifically 2.5D and 2.75D backgrounds for ICVFX). Through integration with disguise, we can easily export the scenes we create to media servers, where the scene’s layers are automatically mapped to an LED environment and made ready for shooting. This development is a significant game-changer because it promises to reduce pre-production time and costs substantially.

 

How do you manage the workflow in a virtual production environment to ensure efficiency and quality?

With more than four years of experience in the field, we’ve honed a powerful, efficient workflow for virtual production, emphasizing a strong culture of pre-production, where we can coordinate all technical elements to meet the unique challenges of each project. Our flexibility and technological mastery ensure top-quality outcomes, even in this fast-developing early adopter field.

Production teams for streaming platforms ask us for certain tools for the colour pipeline and we work alongside them to make sure we match their requirements exactly.

 

How do you tailor your services to meet the specific needs of different clients in the broadcast and audio-visual industry?

Every project we work on has unique requirements and complexities, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution – this is our strength! While our current inventory mainly consists of premium video solutions, we are expanding our offerings to meet the differing budget needs of clients as virtual studios become more popular in the broadcast world. Our goal is to ensure that every client’s vision is fully realized within their budget.

 

How does 80Six ensure that its team stays skilled and knowledgeable in the rapidly evolving field of virtual production? Are there specific training programs or learning opportunities you provide to your staff?

Committed to staying at the forefront of virtual production, 80six has been a part of SMPTE’s On-Set Virtual Production Initiative since the beginning and they’re some of the leading global drivers in standardising virtual production and bringing rapid solutions based on meaningful industry insights.

You will find our technical team at the major AV tradeshows worldwide, constantly learning about the latest trends and innovative technologies. Virtual production is still a relatively new field, with only a handful of ‘experts’. However, we are pleased to see that there is a lot of knowledge-sharing happening organically, which highlights the global collaboration that this technique has inspired.

 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in virtual production, and what lessons have you learned from them? How have these challenges influenced your approach to future projects?

Working with extended reality in a broadcast environment can be challenging, especially when aiming for a cinematic output. Cinematic lighting doesn’t always align with the requirements for lighting on a xR stage. Achieving the illusion of perfect blend between the back wall and LED floor is driven by light coordination. There’s still a lot to learn as each project comes with specific creative challenges, and you work with different production teams every time. It’s not uncommon to encounter light spill issues, which is why DOPs and gaffers are learning together on the stage.

Looking forward, what do you see as the next big developments in virtual production? How is 80Six preparing for these future trends and technologies?

Our main goal at 80six is to encourage a wider adoption of virtual production. To achieve this, we have always provided flexible and sustainable solutions to our clients. With the advent of VP 2.0, we believe that the industry is moving in the same direction as us. Instead of huge permanent LED Volumes, the trend is now towards customized LED Volumes of different configurations that are tailored to the specific needs of each scene. We envision a simpler future for virtual production, with less technological complexity and more mobile, plug-and-play systems – exactly what 80six are delivering.

 

ABOUT VIRTUAL PRODUCTION STUDIOS BY 80SIX

Located just outside London, Virtual Production Studios by 80six is an 11,743 sq ft. purpose-built virtual production & mixed reality studio with bespoke LED stages and the latest real-time technologies for delivering in-camera VFX (ICVFX) or xR (extended reality).

Through a combination of high-resolution LED screens, game engines, camera tracking technology and award-winning media servers, the studio is geared to lead visual innovation in film, TV & advertising by integrating existing and emerging technologies in new ways that push entertainment production to a new level.

 

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