Falcon’s Digital Media Produces Photo-realistic Visual Effects for Virtual Production Based Broadcast Sports Event
The second season of Karate Combat, the full-contact karate league, seamlessly blends real-world athletic events with cutting-edge virtual production to transport audiences to simulated worlds.
Falcon’s visual effects contributions can be seen in the first three episodes of Season 2, where fighters battle amidst sci-fi temples on the fictional planet of “Anger Wat,” inspired by Angkor Wat, an ancient temple complex in Cambodia. The team produced nearly 1,400 shots in all, totaling more than two and a half hours of visual effects content for these episodes.
The preeminent focus for Falcon’s was building a digital set extension for Karate Combat’s live-action film shoot. This digital set would be utilized inside a real-time game engine to help coordinate on-set lighting, practical props, and set dressing elements. In post-production, Falcon’s chroma-keyed the locked footage and replaced the backgrounds with high-fidelity 3D environments in daytime, sunset, and nighttime lighting scenarios, creating a cinematic quality digital setting.
The pictures above show the Karate Combat 3D environments in different lighting scenarios.
Before filming began, the Falcon’s team created the first iteration of the digital set inside Epic’s Unreal Engine so the camera crew could reference it on-set. Falcon’s had their own on-set VFX supervisor, who worked with the cinematographer and production team on the physically built sets, lighting, camera angles, calibration of the camera tracking equipment, and the operation of the real-time virtual production system during filming in Budapest, Hungary. The input, consultation, and documentation from Falcon’s on-set VFX Supervisor were critical to the success of this project during post-production.
The physical set in Budapest consisted of the fighting pit, props on the ground, atmospheric lighting, and an entryway for the fighters, who were cheered on by a crowd of about 100 spectators. The action is called by MMA legend Bas Rutten, actor and comedian Bryan Callen, and former NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch. All other elements featured in the final episodes were digitally created, which meant everything from visual effects, dynamic simulations, and rotoscoping, to lighting, rendering, and compositing was required.
Falcon’s Pipeline team created custom tools that ingested the locked edits and created individually named shots that matched up with the virtual production camera tracking data. These custom tools automated as much of the work as possible, which accelerated the process of rendering the 1,400 shots. Among other things, the tools ingested footage, created shots from the locked edits, and assembled, queued, and rendered the CG environment.
Houdini software was utilized to produce the cracked virtual ground that surrounded the fighting pit, a liquid portal effect that was created with a combination of fluid FX and compositing techniques, moving foliage, and atmospheric elements such as birds and bugs flying in the background. The team also developed a new instancing technique to reduce render times for these dynamic elements.
Doing something that’s never been done before is inherently difficult; there is no precedent, no manual to pore over, no YouTube video to review. Then again, being first gives you license to explore possibilities without being constrained by preconceived notions of what success looks like. That is the mentality that both Karate Combat and Falcon’s Digital Media brought to this ambitious undertaking.