Blackmagic Design today announced that Brooklyn, NY based production house The Family used several of its products for virtual production work on the sci fi romantic comedy “Molli and Max in the Future.” Having recently premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival, the film creates a universe like no other using a combination of old school practical visual effects (VFX) and cutting edge virtual production technology.
Starring Zosia Mamet and Aristotle Athari, “Molli and Max in the Future” is about a man and woman whose orbits repeatedly collide over the course of 12 years, four planets, three dimensions and one space cult. To help create the wholesome love story set in a vast sci fi world, The Family’s Creative Director Steve Dabal was at the helm of the film’s virtual production workflow, collaborating closely with Director Michael Lukk Litwak and Cinematographer/VFX Supervisor Zach Stoltzfus.
“Michael had a strong vision for the world he wanted to build, which fit well with the technology driven storytelling we do at The Family,” said Dabal. “The virtual production and virtual art department allowed the team to hone in on the environments to make sure they reflected the characters, including how the main characters’ planets needed to look and feel, which was an essential story component. All the backgrounds and landscapes were built ahead of filming, so the look could be achieved without having a massive footprint on set.”
Using a 50 ft. by 12 ft. LED wall, the virtual production color pipeline was built around DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, VFX and audio post production software, ATEM Mini live production switcher, DeckLink 8K Pro capture and playback card, and SmartScope Duo monitor.
With DaVinci Resolve Studio in hand, The Family was able to help deliver the film’s distinct look in real time on set. “For the in camera VFX scenes, we strove for final pixel since the goal was to minimize the amount of VFX needed in post. A good chunk of plates were 2D content, which gives much less control compared to 3D Unreal Engine backgrounds,” explained Dabal. “To ensure the color matched, we recorded LOG assets on the LED wall and then a LUT was created in DaVinci Resolve Studio that could be added on top of the assets, adjusting the intensity of the LUT on-set for the final look.”
The team also used Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K and Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 digital film cameras during yearlong, extensive testing that helped create the film’s unique look.
Dabal continued, “Virtual production’s secret sauce is always R&D, so preproduction was essential. We set up a small standing LED stage in Brooklyn that Michael and Zach visited multiple times throughout the year of preproduction. We’d put up content for them to play with and refine the look of the film, for example, testing the color workflow, using focal lengths to convincingly use 2D miniatures as background plates, and defining the look outside the spaceships’ windows. For the scenes in Unreal Engine, we built storyboards that were then refined with stand ins so that on the day of filming, all the in camera VFX was already seen by Michael, Zach, and Gaffer Jesse Moritz.
“We kept the URSA Mini Pros on stage throughout testing because their accessible UI allows anyone to easily R&D, whether that be Zach working on color science, Michael reviewing how his storyboards translate to filming in the volume, or Jesse seeing how different light sources will play in relation to the output from the LED panels.”
There were some prep days where Litwak was at wardrobe fittings and not able to be on stage, so The Family live streamed the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K in camera VFX feed via an ATEM Mini connected to Zoom. This allowed Litwak to give direct feedback and respond to how the visuals looked even while remote.
According to Dabal, the amount of practical and digital effects in “Molli and Max in the Future” is staggering, especially for a genre film. “It’s scary to embrace new technologies, so I’m very grateful that we were allowed to use our technical expertise to push boundaries,” he said. “For me, a film like ‘Molli and Max in the Future’ is a great example of how you can take a genre like romantic comedy and use technology elevate it. Not only is this a great differentiating factor for a project, but it is a fresh take for audiences. It shows how virtual production technology can be used beyond just big budget sci fi and fantasy action films.”
Dabal concluded, “Our goal is to partner closely with our filmmakers to help make their vision and specific style come to life, and no project exemplifies that more than ‘Molli and Max in the Future.’ Our Blackmagic Design powered pipeline gave us the flexibility and range to bring their beautiful universe to life. I am proud to have worked alongside a cast and crew that trusted us to be a part of this journey.”
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