A PFTrack Twist on a Dickensian Drama

In December 2015, the BBC drama Dickensian brought a new take on the writings of Charles Dickens to our TV screens. The 20-part series sees the iconic author’s most famous characters, from Miss Havisham and Bill Sikes to Ebenezer Scrooge, all united in one storyline, and set on one street.

Following their successful TV work on shows like The C-word and Poldark, it was visual effects specialists Lexhag’s task to bring this reimagined street to life, and to recreate the Victorian scenery depicted in Dickens’ novels. To make this vision possible, the company employed PFTrack to help develop the set extensions and sky animations.

Daniel Newlands, not only an avid visual effects blogger and valued member of The Pixel Farm’s user community, is Lexhag’s 3D lead. He tells us how Lexhag brought Dickensian’s 19th century storyline to life.

Matchmoving in the Right Direction

Dickensian, much like the other TV shows Lexhag have worked on, required a very quick turnaround. Therefore, an efficient matchmoving method was necessary in order to deliver consistent and effective results for the set extensions, throughout the series.

With their success of using lidar data for Poldark in their repertoire, Lexhag knew that embracing a lidar workflow would allow them to produce impressive set extensions for the Dickensian project. Using this technique allowed them to produce outstanding set extensions, including the recreation of the famous copper mine from the popular TV series, Poldark.

“You know exactly what you’re going to get when you’re on set using lidar,” Daniel explains. “You can check the data straight away, which is a benefit if there isn’t much time to get what’s needed.”

By utilising lidar technology for matchmoving, Lexhag would be able to save masses of time due to the accuracy and the instant availability of the data. And most importantly, accommodate to the tight deadlines.

Ready, Set, Track

For Dickensian, Lexhag needed to complete a set extension for every shot where the camera would see above the first floor of a building, which involved creating another floor, before adding a roof and sky.

“The first thing we did was lidar scan the entire set,” Daniel reflects, “we then brought the data back to the office, registered it together, and used it as our base for everything.”

The lidar scan of the full set

From here, Lexhag’s 3D team could get to work, “modelling proxy geometry based off the lidar data, then extending on top of that to make the CG building extension,” Daniel explains.

Once Lexhag started to receive episodes of Dickensian to work on, they would import the lidar data into PFTrack, which allowed them to align and track their cameras into scene perfectly.

The lidar scan of the set in PFTrack

As a result, Lexhag were able to turn around 20–30 shots in a day using this method. From this point, Daniel explains, “all we needed to do was export from PFTrack into 3D animation and compositing software. And because we were all working in the same world space, set by the lidar data at the start, it dropped right into the correct place.”

Living up to Great Expectations

Working on TV series requires companies like Lexhag, to produce high quality visual effects, often in a limited time-frame. With PFTrack’s unique lidar capabilities, Lexhag could track their cameras seamlessly, and deliver the amazing set extensions for Dickensian, without fear of missing a deadline.

Daniel discusses, “when we work on TV series, we don’t have time to get 100% pixel perfect tracks, but the great thing with PFTrack is that we can get our work to the pixel perfect stage with just a few hours of work, rather than days.”

Conclusion

Integrating PFTrack into visual effects pipelines can not only provide companies with endless creative possibilities, but can also save masses of time with its pin-point accurate camera tracking. Lexhag have proved that when the right tools and processes are used for a project, quality results can be delivered in the shortest of time frames.

With his extensive knowledge of the software, Daniel has contributed greatly to The Pixel Farm’s User Community with support and advice for fellow users of PFTrack. He has also written several educational posts about PFTrack on his own blog, including an insight into his lidar workflow for Poldark, and a comparison of a photogrammetry vs. lidar workflow in PFTrack.

Useful Links

Lexhag — http://www.lexhag.co.uk/

BBC Dickensian — https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06vbmfq

Visual Barn — http://www.visual-barn.com/blog/