Transforming Fashion Photography

We're in a lush jungle waterfall, water glistening all around. We're in a deep forest surrounded by mountains. We're out in the desert as the sun sets over the dunes. Except we're in none of those places. We're in Manhattan at the New York Fashion Week launch of Pier59 Studios' ground-breaking Virtual Production stage created with the latest Image-Based Lighting technology from Quasar Science. 

Pier59 Revolutionizes Fashion Photography with Virtual Production

For over 30 years, Pier59 Studios has been a leading name in the fashion industry, offering premier commercial studio spaces in Manhattan. Now, with a commitment to innovation, Pier59 is pushing boundaries by embracing Virtual Production technology to merge physical and virtual worlds and create the largest virtual production studio in Northeast America. In collaboration with Quasar Science, Pier59 embarked on an ambitious project to showcase the capabilities of Virtual Production and where better to launch the space than New York Fashion Week. 

A Vision for Change 

Pier59 Studios, driven by a passion for fashion and a desire to remain at the forefront of the industry, recognized the potential of Virtual Production. Steve Baum, Pier59 Studio’s chief innovation officer, and Lorenzo Ferrante, the manager of virtual production, spearheaded the initiative. To bring their vision to life, they enlisted the expertise of Marcus Bengtsson, formerly with disguise and Original Syndicate, renowned for their expertise in Virtual Production technology.

Lighting the Path to Realism

Recognizing the crucial role lighting plays in Virtual Production, Marcus understood the need for impeccable lighting solutions. He chose to work with Quasar Science and Litepanels lighting because of their expertise in Image-Based Lighting (IBL). With a focus on maintaining the integrity of fashion photography, Quasar Science and Litepanels offered flexible custom designed lighting solutions, ensuring realistic integration between the physical and virtual elements of the shoot.

Preparation and Collaboration

Preparation was key to the success of the launch event. Cinematographer Tim Kang joined the team to oversee the technical and creative aspects of the project. Extensive discussions and recommendations determined the best approach for staging, props, and realizing the overall vision. An existing partnership with Planar allowed the Quasar Science team to use their experience and expertise in building an LED volume, guaranteeing a seamless production process.

Quasar Science’s research into the physics and control of light has developed a color engine that produces more accurate colors and control. Both the Double Rainbow (RR) and Rainbow 2 (R2) fixtures feature Quasar’s RGBX Spectral Science Color Engine (RGBX SSCE) that can produce more than one billion unique colors with smooth and even CCT control. The Spectrum Control feature gives the ability to control the spectral quality of any color point. This advanced level of quality and control is critical to create believable virtual environments.

Conquering the Complexities

Tim devised a lighting design using four Double Rainbow 406 arrays, comprising six four-foot Double Rainbow fixtures mounted into an Ossium Frame, and two custom Rainbow 2 824 arrays made up of 24 eight-foot Rainbow 2 fixtures in an Ossium Frame. They positioned the arrays in a horseshoe shape around the stage. This, coupled with Litepanels Gemini 2x1 Hard panels as back lights, allowed for a dynamic and visually captivating experience. They controlled all the lighting elements using disguise software.

A challenge was the kabuki theatre setup, which required the lighting units to be mobile for effortless movement. Rigging Gaffer Ray Gonzalez played a crucial role in determining the right gear and crew size to ensure quick and safe setup changes. The solution involved mounting the arrays on mobile stands with wheels, allowing the lighting technicians to roll them in and out quickly.

To showcase the LED volume walls, each show begun with a video introduction, followed by the kabuki theatre aspect of the production. The production design team incorporated various set pieces for each scene, and the lighting setups simply rolled into the overall production, enabling each transition to be completed within one minute.

A simple DMX workflow daisy chaining everything made it much easier to manage data with just a single cable connecting each light. Using the built-in sACN protocol on the Rainbow fixtures provided stability and flexibility, as well as being a simple hard-wired solution to minimize the risk of data dropouts during the live show that might happen with Wi-Fi.

Transforming Environments

The fashion show featured three distinct scenes, each highlighting different technical approaches. The first simulated a jungle waterfall, requiring the replication of sunlight reflecting off water and deep shade on the talent. The next scene took place in a forest, utilizing an HDRI workflow to create a realistic mountain view. Last, a desert sunset scene showed real-time lighting changes using Unreal Engine, showcasing the dynamic capabilities of Virtual Production.

Aesthetics in Action

Balancing Creativity and Practicality Cinematographer Tim faced challenges in achieving a naturalistic look while considering the constraints of the event. He made a compromise by bringing the lighting fixtures closer to the talent, resulting in a more lit shot aesthetic rather than purely naturalistic. However, this compromise aligned with the high production value expected in fashion photography, ultimately balancing aesthetics and practicality.

Elevating Fashion Photography

Integrating Virtual Production with fashion photography at Pier59 Studios created a transformative experience. By merging physical and virtual elements seamlessly, the team created a new way to capture the essence of fashion. The dynamic lighting environments allowed for instant adjustments and experimentation, enabling photographers to explore different moods and atmospheres within a single shoot. This newfound flexibility not only enhanced creativity but also reduced post-production time and costs significantly.

Setting New Industry Standards

The ability to create realistic lighting environments in real-time has opened endless possibilities for photographers and designers alike. By combining the expertise of Quasar Science and Litepanels in lighting technology with the vision of their creative team, Pier59 has created an immersive and transformative experience for fashion photography. The successful integration of physical and virtual elements, coupled with the flexibility and efficiency of real-time lighting adjustments, has set new standards for the industry.

As the fashion world embraces Virtual Production, the boundaries of creativity, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in fashion photography are unlimited. Pier59 Studios' pioneering project is a catalyst for further innovation and exploration within the industry, inspiring professionals to reimagine traditional workflows and embrace the endless possibilities of merging the physical and virtual realms.

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