Inside Volucap’s new volumetric tech set-up, and its new 4D people

The volumetric capture studio is widening the company’s product offerings.

When befores & afters last caught up with Volucap, they had just delivered a range of volumetric capture and camera rig solutions for The Matrix Resurrections, including some impressive underwater volumetric capture tests.

Volucap, based in Studio Babelsberg, Germany, has significantly expanded its already high-resolution volumetric recording system by developing a new custom camera with IO Industries, and is also offering new portable capture systems and downloads of hyper-realistic moving human 3D models called 4D People for VFX, virtual production, archviz and metaverse projects.

We asked Volucap CEO Sven Bliedung von der Heide to explain more.

Sven Bliedung von der Heide presenting at FMX 2022.

b&a: What is it do you think you are doing at Volucap that’s different to what other capture companies are doing?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: The big challenge is really to look at the whole pipeline. Usually when people think about volumetric video pipelines, they look at software or they look maybe at hardware, but they don’t look across the whole pipeline. Things like, how is heat influencing a sensor? How do we have to design a structure that is optimized for having a multi-camera rig? How are all the triggers and signals working? We really build everything from scratch. For example, all the signal cables are in-house.

What most companies are doing, they’re buying cameras and use off-the-shelf structures, with some lights, setting it up, and then they’re focusing on software to create some kind of 3D mesh out of it. Lighting is a very important part, of course, but then also how you build up the area of cameras and processing of huge data amounts. There’s a lot of work on the small details. This makes, in the end, a very rich, big difference.

Our technology is a very disruptive gamechanger. Digital avatars that otherwise take several months to create, we can create in a day at a fraction of the cost. Especially the fact that you don’t need to know anything about the technology and can see results immediately is appreciated by many customers. For example, we make volucaps of managers who spontaneously think up texts, record them with us and are on their way back in less than an hour. Or the actress Ellen Hollman, even, had to leave the set of Matrix Resurrections in less than 15 minutes, and we had spatially captured all important movements. With all previous methods, something like that would be unthinkable.

Each camera in Volucap’s volumetric capture set-up from IO Industries has a full-frame 9K global shutter sensor—that’s 65 megapixels per frame. The RAW video is recorded direct to SSD storage by IOI electronics with precisely sync’d timecode, for whatever length sequences they need to shoot. All the frame data is then transferred into Volucap’s processing pipeline.

b&a: What is Volucap’s new camera system now made of?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: Volucap has collaborated with IO Industries to develop a new custom camera for high-end volumetric imaging. This is what I really like about the team there. They’re very, very open to discuss different technology and hardware, and we’re getting the core elements from the camera system, which are very crucial to record such a high amount of data, and then modifying those parts and building things around it to make it even more efficient and better so that we can use it for our requirements. It’s really about bringing their knowledge together with our knowledge and building something on top to create the ultimate best camera for the volumetric video market.

b&a: What are the tech specs of your new camera and system set-up?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: The complete system will have a total resolution of about 3000 megapixels per frame. That’s four times our previous resolution, which is already the market leader. Such high resolutions offer a lot of new possibilities.

IO Industries will be at two upcoming trade shows:
Augmented World Expo, June 2-3, Santa Clara (California, USA)
Broadcast Asia, June 1-3, Singapore

b&a: Your new camera and systems set-up, is this for both the fixed and portable solutions?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: Yes, for both. We are always continually upgrading, and looking to build more stages. Having two approaches is something I think really works–having a way to be very portable, to go to a set with a small team and build something in just a few hours, and then also have the capability at our main setup at Studio Babelsberg where productions can come right in. On productions like Matrix 4, we were on standby next to the set and within 5 minutes we were right on set and ready to shoot. Such flexibility is what big productions expect nowadays. Having a stage directly on location also offers the advantage of being able to scan actors quickly in between during setup times, so that no time is lost from the shooting day.

b&a: So what are Volucap’s main offerings at the moment, and what do you want to offer in the near future?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: We have a couple of different kinds of capture stages. First is our static fixed stage called Volucap Max, which has the highest resolution. Everything is set up ready to go. This is for high resolution scans of humans or animals. Then there’s our Volucap Go system, which is portable, so we can bring it on location, build it up and it just captures there. This has not been released yet. And then our third system is a live system, where we are able to livestream volumetric data, which is extremely important for venues and events.

Our other kind of offerings are customized solutions for big feature film productions, such as what we did for The Matrix Resurrections. This is where productions might say, I can’t do it normally with any camera technology on the market, how can we solve it? And then we can come up with solutions which are completely customized for the specific shots. We create camera rigs, use machine learning for replacing faces, rendering hair and so on.

Our newest product is 4D People, where you can buy people already captured as volucaps.

b&a: How does 4D People work?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: Here, you just buy a person and then you can have them as a virtual extra on set. You can have people standing in the back, reading magazines, doing anything basically, and because they are fully virtual, they can be seen from pretty much any angle.

They’re being used in films,TV shows and archviz, as well. There’s also a lot of immersive projects where they can work, like metaverse projects. The other place is in virtual production projects.

Via the website, you can choose if you have Maya, if you have 3ds Max, if you use V-Ray, etc. You just choose what kind of environment you have, and then you directly download the project file, use import and then everything’s already set up. You don’t have to care about how to import any kind of data format.

b&a: How did you capture these people, or these vignettes of people?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: We did about two weeks of shooting with about 40 different people. Right now we’re focused on doing background extras. In the next round we will specifically do a lot of people who are eating, say, especially for use in virtual production.

Some of the 4D People options.

We’re hearing that ‘people eating’ is very expensive on the set, because you have catering needing to bring them the food, and then you need to refill it, all over, every time. So, those are the most expensive extras you can have on a set. So, we might go and do like a special eating scenario where you have a lot of people just eating stuff. Just imagine the effort it usually takes to create someone eating spaghetti. With our technology it’s just record and we have it.

b&a: So you can maybe buy a ‘pasta eating guy’ in the near future?

Sven Bliedung von der Heide: Yeah. Or ‘cake guy’ or ‘cake woman’. We really can capture anyone doing anything.

Brought to you by IO Industries:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

Need After Effects and other VFX plugins? Find them at Toolfarm.

Leave a Reply