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ARwall and Webster University Bridge the Gap Between Education and Virtual Production Technologies With New Virtual Production Facility

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Webster University has become the first university in the Midwest to have a state-of-the-art virtual production facility thanks to a unique partnership with ARwall, a Metaverse 100 XR technology company. ARwall also partnered with the leading LED manufacturer Absen, which enabled them to provide Webster University’s School of Communications with superior quality tools at an optimum price.

A Top Virtual Production Facility for a Top Film and Photography College

Webster University takes a direct and hands-on approach with student programs, and it has been ranked in the Top 50 Best Colleges in Film and Photography in the U.S. by Niche.com. Recognizing the current talent crisis in the production industry, Eric Rothenbuhler, Dean of the School of Communications, said, “Virtual production is now an integral part of the overall production landscape, so future professionals should learn these techniques in the same ways as they learn about photography, lighting, editing, and other filmmaking processes. The industry is always evolving, and we want to ensure our students have access to cutting-edge, innovative tech that will set them up for success in their careers.” 

When asked about some of the key reasons that Webster University chose ARwall to partner with for the delivery of their virtual production stage, Rothenbuhler said, “We looked at several companies and ARwall was one of the easiest to work with, right from the start. Working with them, we were also able to get the Absen LED wall, the server, software, and installation as a package, and all at a reasonable price. They have continued to be very supportive and easy to work with.”

The virtual production facility has already been put to good use by students. “As soon as the wall was built in mid-October, 10 students and two faculty members began meeting in a class every Wednesday night to learn the system and experiment with its capabilities,” Rothenbuhler said. “By the end of the semester, eight weeks later, they had shot several scenes and produced a sample reel.”

Rothenbuhler elaborated on how the new facility has taken student and faculty projects to the next level. “We started this semester with three classes scheduled regularly in the Sound Stage with the wall and other classes ready to go there for specific assignments,” he said. “We have also added Unreal Engine for Filmmakers components to our Film, Television, and Video Production courses. We’ve been teaching Unreal Engine in our Game Design courses for several years, of course. Some of the students who were in that first course last fall are producing their own work on the wall now, for senior projects and other independent work. One of my faculty colleagues is also using the virtual cinema system in his own new production, set entirely in an imagined world with 3D-generated actors.”

A Fruitful Webster University and ARwall Collaboration

Webster University's School of Communications worked directly with ARwall to build a virtual production facility which best fit the school’s program and the professional development needs of its students. “At ARwall, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all service,” said Rene Amador, ARwall CEO and Co-Founder. “From initial concept to final delivery, we offer specialist XR consulting. We identified the needs of Webster University’s space and planned curriculum, acknowledging that, to help their students get to a production-ready level, they needed access to the latest virtual production technology and the freedom to experiment and make their boundless ideas into a reality. In addition, our partnership with LED manufacturer Absen meant that the university was able to access professional-grade tools. This includes a 20 x 12 ft. 1.5mm pitch Absen AX Pro LED wall, combined with our ARFX Pro Server System.”

When asked how the ARwall and Absen partnership came together, Amador said, “We have had a longstanding partnership with Absen, having previously worked with them on a stage installation for Soapbox Films. We knew that their AX Pro panels provide the best quality solutions for virtual production filmmaking, something we’ve partnered with Absen on for over a year to achieve. Some of the key technological benefits include accurate color reproduction, anti-glare matte finish, high 7680Hz refresh rate for excellent cadence and motion blur, and HDR10 equivalent dynamic contrast; all of which make final images more detailed and realistic, equipping students with the best tools to bring their stories to life. ARwall brings its award-winning software and server tech, ARFX Pro, to complete the illusion.”

Frank Ren, Chief Technology Officer, Absen, elaborated on how LED technology is often used in conjunction with XR projects to complement and enhance XR for creators and users, specifically for the new virtual production studio. “Webster University is utilizing Absen's AX1.5 Pro cabinets which is a fine pitch portable tile dedicated for the use in Virtual Production,” he said. “It is able to reproduce the wide Color Gamut of content designed for cinema use. This product is capable of supporting many features that Virtual Production LED Walls need to have such as multiple frame rates, frame remapping, and high frame rate content. The AX1.5 Pro has great performance on many well-known film camera models to prevent scan lines from appearing in the content. It uses our IMD (Integrated Mounting Device) pixel technology to increase the contrast ratio and limit the amount of moiré effect in camera movements.”

Regarding specific uses of Absen tech for the new virtual production facility, Ren said, “The directors are able to see the filming environment on set and make real-time adjustments that will significantly improve production communication and efficiency. The cast is also able to see the scene in real-time to be able to react and make acting adjustments on the fly. Time, energy, and money can be saved for both set changes that need to take place and travel budgets for some productions. The LED wall can bring recorded videos of a city into a studio. Light from the LEDs will be present and can be used as a backlight to reflect off the talent's bodies authentically.”

Absen Ensures That What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)

“Massive virtual scenes can be shot in a small local production studio, and multiple scenes can be shot at once using Frame Remapping,” Ren said. “The talent will act, and the cameras will pick up only the different video at its refresh rate. Postproduction time and reshoots are greatly reduced as the majority of the production time will be used during the pre-production phase instead of building the entire virtual world for the entire production. There is no limit to the imagination. A director and/or studio can design whatever they can imagine for a production and play it on the LED Wall.”

Ultimately, this new collaboration between top-tier tech companies with a top-tier film and photography college is an essential step towards bridging the gap between education and virtual production technologies and ensuring that the next generation of talent enters the professional industry better prepared than ever.

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